Dodd demands Sebelius explain swine flu vaccines at Wall St. firms

November 5, 2009

The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Hubert H. Humphrey Building
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Sebelius:

Like many Americans, I was stunned to hear news reports that private Wall Street companies were able to obtain H1N1 vaccines when hospitals in New York (and in my home state of Connecticut) do not have the vaccines they need to immunize priority populations.  Every day, I am receiving phone calls and letters from constituents in Connecticut about the difficulties they are facing with obtaining the H1N1 vaccine.  Schools in my state have closed; hospitals and health clinics report widespread shortages.  It is shocking to think that private firms would be prioritized ahead of hospitals when the vaccine supply cannot meet the demand.

In 2006, Congress passed the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act in order to better prepare our nation’s states and cities for a pandemic much like we are seeing today with the H1N1 virus.  Under that Act, the Secretary is charged with distributing and overseeing grants to states and localities to increase the preparedness, response capabilities, and surge capacity of hospitals, other health care facilities (including mental health facilities), and trauma care and emergency medical service systems, with respect to public health emergencies, which includes developing plans for rapid distribution and administration of medical countermeasures and protecting health care workers and first responders from workplace exposures during a public health emergency.

In addition, these grants must take into consideration the needs of at-risk individuals, defined as children, pregnant women, and senior citizens and other individuals who have special needs in the event of a public health emergency, as determined by the Secretary.  What process has the Department of Health and Human Services undertaken to ensure that grantees meet the criteria established by Congress?  In light of the news regarding Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms, what actions does the Department intend to take with respect to New York City?  What audit authority does the Department currently have?  And how can we be certain that doses that should be going to pregnant women and schoolchildren are not instead being used by less vulnerable people who happen to work on Wall Street?

I have also heard reports that states and localities were not made aware of the Department’s plans for H1N1 distribution until August.  Is that accurate?  Why did the Department wait so long to make this decision and when and how was this decision communicated to the states and localities to enable them to plan locally?

As you are well aware, the difficulties in H1N1 vaccine production and distribution and the resulting limited vaccine supply, poses a serious public health threat. As of last Friday, Connecticut had only received 187,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccine, although 500,000 doses had been expected by the middle of last month.  With the demand for vaccine far exceeding the supply, it is difficult for citizens in my state, and around the country, to hear about private firms receiving vaccines before hospitals.

I urge you to take immediate steps to provide whatever assistance or guidance may be necessary to help states and cities obtain more vaccines for their populations.

And I implore you to use whatever authorities you have to ensure that H1N1 vaccines already distributed but not yet used are promptly redirected to hospitals, schools, community health clinics, school-based health clinics, and pediatricians so that they can be made immediately available to at-risk members of the public as identified by the Department.

I am prepared to help provide you with whatever legal authorities you may need to ensure that grantees of the federal government fully comply with the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act and the guidelines of the Department for this public health emergency.

I appreciate your urgent attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

CHRISTOPHER J. DODD

United States Senator