Senators to Pence: We need to promote and ensure the distribution of flu vaccinations to save lives, reduce hospitalizations, and free up resources for COVID-19 response

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) led a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House  Coronavirus Task Force, regarding the Trump Administration's efforts to prepare for a resurgence of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) during this year's seasonal influenza, which Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield warned could create unprecedented strain on our health care system. The letter urged the administration to activate the resources of the federal government now to increase capacity, supplies, and vaccinations to prevent public health and medical systems from being overwhelmed by simultaneous peaks of both of these deadly infectious diseases in the fall. Joining Senators Warren and Markey are Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.).

Previous severe flu outbreaks by themselves have stretched the capacity of our health care system, leading to shortages of hospital beds and nurses. The COVID-19 pandemic, which arrived in the U.S. near the end of this year's flu season, has required hospitals to operate at maximum capacity, mobilizing additional staff and creating field hospitals to handle the overflow of patients. The combination of a COVID-19 resurgence with the annual flu outbreak is likely to strain the health care system even further, requiring even more supplies, funding, and staff, and placing an unprecedented burden on public health systems.

"The federal government must prepare now for this alarming scenario. Now, more than any previous flu season, it is essential that people get their flu shot. One of the most important and reliable ways to reduce the severity of flu outbreaks is to promote and ensure the distribution of flu vaccinations, which save lives, while helping to reduce hospitalizations and freeing up resources for other purposes," the lawmakers wrote.

However, the response to seasonal influenza will be complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Already, rates of routine pediatric vaccinations have plummeted during the pandemic as parents and patients skip routine care visits for fear of contracting COVID-19. To begin to address this problem, the lawmakers urge the Administration to mobilize resources to improve flu vaccination take-up rates for both health care workers and the general public, including by implementing a national public information campaign to combat misinformation, and educate those who may not normally seek out the vaccine. The senators also write that the Administration will need to plan now to build infrastructure for increased flu vaccine distribution and bolster supply chains in order to accommodate an increased demand for both the flu vaccine and for COVID-19 tests.

"Now is the time to increase production and purchasing of essential equipment, and we continue to urge the President to use the authority of the Defense Production Act, as needed, and all other available tools to increase production of PPE, testing and vaccine materials, and other needed medical supplies in order to be prepared for increased demand over the next year or more," wrote the lawmakers.

The lawmakers have requested responses to their letter no later than June 3, 2020.