Strengthening a pathway to cures

Before coming to office in 2010, I had the honor of serving our country and working to protect Americans, but in a different capacity. I donned scrubs and tennis shoes, and I served the American people as a nurse working in a hospital setting.

Without question, vaccines are one of the most important contributions to public health in the history of medicine. Over the last several decades, public health has improved greatly, and much of this has to do with advances and developments made within the vaccine industry. It remains one of the most significant ways to prevent the spread of disease, and benefits the community as a whole, as it protects both the individual who was vaccinated and those who may come into contact with the potential carrier.

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While many infectious diseases like Smallpox and Measles have been mostly eradicated, their recent re-emergence is further proof of the need for global vaccine development. My home state of North Carolina is in the midst of an outbreak of its own: we have experienced a record number of flu-related deaths this year. The flu has resulted in 152 deaths, and more than 75 percent of these victims were senior citizens above the age of 65. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared a national flu epidemic. 

The need for education should remain at the forefront of this national discussion, and the federal government should work to ensure that the most recent studies, research and clinical trial data are readily available to parents and heads of households. This information should be easily accessible to parents visiting their child’s pediatrician or when visiting their own physician so that they can be fully informed of the benefits of vaccination. The CDC estimates that vaccination of children in the United States between 1994 and 2013 will prevent 322 million illnesses, help avoid more than 730,000 deaths and save nearly $1.4 trillion in healthcare costs. The public needs to be aware of this information.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee launched an effort early last year called the 21st Century Cures Initiative, with the goal of accelerating the pace at which cures are developed and policies are streamlined in order to save lives. This specific initiative, the first of its kind, has been instrumental in influencing the broader discussion on cures through numerous roundtables and subcommittee hearings.

Based on concerns brought to light during the 21st Century Cures Initiative, I hosted a roundtable back home to unmask concerns that local biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies face, when it comes to discovering, developing and delivering life-saving vaccines to the general public.  After hearing directly from agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, the CDC and biopharmaceutical companies, it became clear that there is room for improvement in terms of streamlining the approval process for life-saving vaccines.

Given the feedback I received firsthand from leaders in this industry, and taking into account the number of emerging infectious diseases and recent epidemics, it became clear that legislation was needed to safeguard public health and expedite the approval process for vaccines. I worked with a colleague of mine, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), to create legislation that will ensure a smoother and more efficient approval process for discovering and manufacturing vaccines so that we can better protect public health.

This legislation is a proactive measure that will help us to better prepare for future outbreaks and ensure that we are doing our part to protect children, adolescents and adults. The federal government’s responsibility is to ensure the safety and security for all Americans, and in working to educate the public on the important benefits of vaccinations, we are doing just that.

Ellmers has represented North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District since 2011. She sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee.