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Van Hollen introduces bill supporting 'universal' flu vaccine

WASHINTON – U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has joined U.S. Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) in introducing the Flu Vaccine Act, legislation to conduct or support comprehensive research for the creation of a universal influenza vaccine that could be administered once or twice and provide a lifetime of protection. The legislation is calling for a total investment of $1 billion – $200 million for each of fiscal years 2019 through 2023 for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases within NIH spent an estimated $64 million for universal flu vaccine research in Fiscal Year 2017.

In Maryland, during the week of February 4, 2018, almost 4,000 Marylanders visited an emergency room with flu-like symptoms, and this season over 27,000 Marylanders have visited an emergency room with flu-like symptoms. This season, the United States has already seen 97 pediatric deaths and high levels of illness and hospitalizations related to the flu. The flu costs the nation $10.4 billion in direct medical costs annually and $87 billion in total economic burden, yet our current investment is significantly lacking.

“The flu has been particularly deadly this year, and for far too long it has been both a medical and economic burden on our country and across the globe,” said Senator Van Hollen. “We must devote the necessary resources to develop a universal vaccine. Maryland is proud to be home to NIH, which is the gold standard of medical research. No one is better suited to lead this effort, and this investment will help save countless lives.”

“As an infectious diseases physician, I have seen and heard some of the devastating results of this winter’s severe influenza season, underscoring the urgent need for a universal vaccine that will provide protection against influenza regardless of each season’s primary strains,” said Dr. Paul Auwaerter, President, Infectious Diseases Society of America. “It is important that we invest the resources necessary to develop this life-saving tool, and Senator Markey’s bill will be extremely helpful.”

Senators Van Hollen and Markey were joined in introducing this legislation by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.).

A copy of the Flu Vaccine Act can be found HERE.

Additionally, Senators Van Hollen, Markey, and their colleagues sent a letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asking for more information on how the Department is preparing for and responding to the flu virus. Specifically, the Senators requested additional detail on the Department’s work to predict more accurately the right viral strain for upcoming flu seasons, produce vaccines more rapidly and effectively, prepare hospitals and providers for the risks of a severe flu season, and protect all Americans against the virus through developing a universal flu vaccine.

Senators signing the letter to HHS also included Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), and Angus King (I-Maine).

A copy of the letter to HHS can be found HERE.

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