WASHINGTON, DC – The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired by Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) today held a hearing examining seasonal influenza and the effectiveness of this year’s influenza vaccine. #SubOversight also explored why this year’s vaccine had reduced effectiveness against one strain of influenza type A, called H3N2.
#SubOversight Chairman Harper began the hearing by sharing some recent statistics, noting, “Influenza is a leading cause of death in the United States, especially in a severe flu season. Every year, thousands of Americans die from the flu and thousands more are hospitalized from flu-related complications. Since 2010, the flu has caused between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths per year. This year was no exception. Tragically, as of February 24, there had already been 114 influenza-associated pediatric deaths this season. Some of these deaths have occurred in my home state of Mississippi.”
Chairman Harper listens to member questions.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, Acting Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), detailed the current flu season and some of its challenges, testifying, “The 2017-2018 influenza season has been a severe one. Flu activity began to increase in early November and then increased rapidly from December through early February. This season, the levels of influenza-like illness, which is a measure based on outpatient visits and emergency department visits, reached levels as high as at the peak of the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic. Unlike in other seasons when flu activity varied in timing and intensity across states, during this 2017-2018 season, many states experienced widespread and high flu activity at the same time. We cannot predict how long this season will last, and while we have started to see a decline in rates of people visiting their doctor for influenza-like illness, we expect to see several more weeks of ongoing flu activity, with continued reports of hospitalizations and flu deaths in children and adults.”
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Commissioner, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), testified about the complexity of the flu each season, stating, “Influenza viruses are highly unpredictable. Each year, they can present new challenges for vaccine manufacturers, public health agencies, providers, and patients. The current flu season has been especially challenging, with widespread activity that has affected all fifty states, resulting in a record number of hospitalizations.”
Witnesses listen to member opening statements.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health (NIH), spoke about the effectiveness of past and present flu vaccines and what we can look forward to in the future, saying, “A more broadly protective, or universal, influenza vaccine would be a valuable tool in our efforts to generate more durable protection against multiple influenza strains.” Dr. Fauci also stressed that NIAID “has made the development of universal influenza vaccines a high priority, and in this regard, has begun a concerted effort to galvanize research in the field.”
Dr. Rick A Bright, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Director of the Biomedical Advances Research and Development Authority (BARDA), highlighted BARDA’s unique role of making vaccines for both pandemic and seasonal flu, testifying, “BARDA also established the first and largest pre-pandemic influenza vaccine stockpile in the world, one that could, if necessary, vaccinate tens of millions in the event of H5N1 and has advanced science of antigens and adjuvants through unique programs. The stockpile and rapid response capability is a true national asset that not only provides vaccine to America’s first responders and critical workforce, but also provides each vaccine manufacturer that holds a U.S. license with valuable lead time to develop vaccines against influenza viruses that pose the greatest risk to becoming a pandemic virus.”
For more information on today’s hearing, including a background memo, witness testimony, and archived webcast, click HERE.