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Pallone Opening Remarks at Oversight Hearing on Flu Season

December 5, 2019


Thank you, Chairwoman DeGette. Every year Influenza causes millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and tens of thousands of deaths across the
United States. Last year, more than 100 children died as
a result of this preventable and treatable disease. And while we are still in the early months
of this year’s flu season, it has already resulted in the deaths of five children. Today, we are continuing this Committee’s
long history of examining flu preparedness and response. I want to thank Chairwoman DeGette in particular because I know that she annually pretty much annually has these hearings, because she thinks it’s very important and I do want to also thank our Ranking Member of the Full Committee, Mr. Walden, for pointing out as an example that he had his flu shot and I had mine too because I do think we have to serve as an example. The flu
is one of many preventable infectious diseases that threaten public health. We know that seasonal flu is particularly
challenging to address. Flu viruses are mutating and changing constantly,
and we do not yet have the ability to predict how severe a flu season will be, when it will
peak, or what flu strains will dominate. We also still have a lot of questions about
why the flu vaccine is more effective for some people, and how someone’s health status
may affect the body’s immune response. I have been encouraged by recent efforts at
the National Institutes of Health to study these issues, with the goal of producing
a universal flu vaccine that is effective against a broader range of flu strains. I am also encouraged by the ongoing research
supported by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, and the
ongoing leadership and coordination among all of the agencies testifying before us today. These efforts are vitally important. While we wait for the results of this research,
it is critical that we continue to stress the importance of getting vaccinated every
year. Thankfully, cost should no longer be a barrier
for anyone to receive their annual flu vaccine. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, flu and
other immunizations are required to be covered by health insurance at no cost to the patient. The Vaccines for Children Program has also
been providing free vaccinations for eligible children for nearly 25 years. Annual flu vaccination is the best method
for preventing flu and its potentially severe complications. This is true even when the flu vaccine is
less effective for various strains. For example, during the 2017–2018 season,
the effectiveness of that year’s flu vaccine was estimated at 40 percent overall, yet the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that it still prevented over
six million illnesses, 91,000 hospitalizations and 5,700 deaths. Vaccinating yourself not only increases the
odds that you won’t get sick this season, but it also protects everyone you come in
contact with. This is particularly important for those more
vulnerable to the flu and its symptoms, such as people with chronic health conditions,
older parents, or a baby niece or nephew. All of this demonstrates the importance of
getting a flu shot, but unfortunately 55 percent of adults were not vaccinated against the
flu last season. I look forward to hearing from the CDC about
its communication and outreach strategies to increase the rates in the future. I know that one of the issues continues to
be public confidence in vaccines, but it’s critical that we continue to get the word
out that vaccines are safe. While harmful misinformation campaigns continue
to proliferate online and in communities across the country, the agencies must continue to
spread the message of vaccine safety. We must also continue to improve our vaccine
manufacturing process to make flu vaccines even more effective, and our ability to treat
patients if they do come down with the flu. So again I thank our witnesses for joining us,
and for the critical leadership role your agencies play in our nation’s flu preparedness
and response efforts. And again, thank you, Chairwoman DeGette.

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