Coverage of new flu vaccine is important public health need

Approximately 24,000 people die from the flu annually, and children and the elderly are the most vulnerable. Among the children who died from the flu during the 2012-2013 Season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 90 percent were not vaccinated.
 
Flu vaccination is critical to reducing this number — and the newly approved four-strain flu vaccine may hold the key to protecting people against more flu viruses. Because illness caused by influenza B virus strains affect children more than any other population, Every Child By Two, an organization dedicated to saving lives through timely vaccination of children, is committed to ensuring that the public has access to the vaccine.
 
Because no medications, including vaccines, can be deemed completely safe in the entire population, and because it remains a public health priority to have manufacturers remain in the vaccine development business, there is a system already in place that provides compensation to people found to be injured by covered vaccines. The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) is a no-fault alternative to the traditional tort system for resolving vaccine injury claims, which allows for a fair and much more simple process of filing claims for potential injury due to vaccines. It was established as part of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, when many manufacturers were leaving, and considering leaving, the market due to litigation concerns which threatened to bankrupt manufacturers and/or lead to skyrocketing costs for vaccines.
 
The awards provided to the injured under the VICP are funded by an excise tax on vaccines. This is the way it has been done since the program was created, and the program has been an overwhelming success. However, the law currently does not cover the new four-strain flu vaccines. So, unfortunately, the language of the law does not allow for the excise tax to be levied on such a vaccine.
 

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In 2012, the FDA approved the use of two four‐strain flu vaccines, which offer broader protection against the seasonal flu. To ensure the American people will be able to take advantage of the new four-strain vaccine, the VICP must be updated. The good news is that Reps. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) have introduced bills (H.R. 475 and S. 391) that would solve this problem by having the four-strain vaccine covered under the VICP.
 
Congress should immediately pass this important and timely legislation, and the American public should recognize and thank Baucus and Hatch and Gerlach and Neal for their leadership on this bill, which is aimed at ensuring a fair and expeditious system to compensate those who may have rare reactions to vaccines. We urge the Congress to act on this important issue to protect the public’s health in the upcoming flu season.


Pisani is executive director of Every Child By Two — Carter/Bumpers Champions for Immunization.

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