Flu costs the nation $10.4 billion in direct medical costs annually and $87 billion in total economic burden


Washington (February 15, 2018) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today introduced 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 – $200,000,000 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. The United States has already seen 63 pediatric deaths and high levels of illness and hospitalizations related to the flu this season. One-in-10 Americans who died the week ending on January 20th died from the flu or pneumonia. 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 current flu vaccine is only 60 percent effective at best, with some estimates putting the effectiveness of this year’s vaccine as low as 10 percent.


Senators co-sponsoring the Flu Vaccine Act are Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Angus King (I-Maine.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).


“America’s scientists and clinicians are gold medalists in health and disease research, and is it is up to the United States to lead the world in the response to the flu,” said Senator Markey. “We must enhance our ability to predict the right strain for the next season, produce a more optimal vaccine, and protect all Americans against all strains of this virus. The Flu Vaccine Act will help provide dedicated, consistent resources so that we can perform the basic science research necessary to improve upon our current vaccine and ultimately develop a universal one.”


“This year, Wisconsin is experiencing a severe flu season that is threatening the lives of children and families across our state,” said Senator Baldwin. “It is absolutely critical that we increase our federal investment in medical research to develop a universal flu vaccine and help save lives. As the granddaughter of a NIH-funded scientist, I am proud to support the Flu Vaccine Act.”


“We have seen a record number of flu cases this year,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Up to 4,000 Americans are dying each week as a result of the flu. Out of that catastrophic tragedy for many families is an obligation for Congress to learn and do better. I am proud to join in the Flu Vaccine Act, and I look forward to working for it vigorously.”


“Minnesota has already seen over one hundred more cases of the flu than we did last year—and this flu season isn’t over yet,” said Senator Klobuchar. “The Flu Vaccine Act will support critical research at the National Institutes of Health to finally develop a universal vaccine so Minnesotans and all Americans can be better protected from all variations of the flu.”


“This flu season has been one of the harshest in recent years, and it’s put the health of kids, seniors, and those with compromised immune systems at risk,” said Senator Smith. “A universal flu vaccine—one that could provide a lifetime of protection and wouldn’t need to be given every year—would save lives, save money, and bring down health care costs. Let’s give America’s medical innovators, who are the best in the world at what they do, the support they need to develop this vaccine.”


“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.”


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


Additionally, Senator Markey and his colleagues sent a letter today to the Secretary 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 request 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 include Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Angus King (I-Maine.).


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