ASM Statement on Energy and Commerce Flu Hearing

Dec. 5, 2019

Statement from the American Society for Microbiology
in response to the
Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Hearing:
“Flu Season: U.S. Public Health Preparedness and Response”
December 4, 2019

On behalf of our 30,000 members, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) commends Chairwoman DeGette, Ranking Member Guthrie, and members of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for holding a hearing on the flu and federal research, preparedness and response efforts. We thank the Committee for its steadfast work to support the federal agencies that play a critical role in addressing the threat of the flu, namely the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Federal support for efforts to address seasonal influenza through research, surveillance, prevention and preparedness is essential because the flu exacts a significant global human and economic toll each year. In just the United States between October 2018 and May 2019, the CDC estimates that between 37.4 million and 42.9 million cases of the flu were diagnosed, resulting in between 531,000 and 647,000 hospitalizations, and as many as 62,000 deaths.1 Individuals over age 65, children five years and under, and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the virus. Tackling this public health threat requires a multi-faceted approach across multiple agencies at the federal, state and local levels.

Federal funding for basic and clinical research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is paramount and must continue if we are to develop better methods for the prevention and treatment of illness caused by the influenza virus. Through research, we have made tremendous strides in understanding the flu and how it evolves and adapts, which in turn has led to improved diagnostics, vaccines and treatments for patients.

ASM is particularly grateful to Congress for its recognition in recent years of the promise a universal flu vaccine holds for public health, and we thank Congress for providing funding for NIAID to pursue this potentially game-changing vaccine. We also commend NIAID for establishing the Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Centers (CIVICS) program, which will facilitate a coordinated, multidisciplinary effort to develop more durable, broadly protective and longer-lasting influenza vaccines.

However, without a strong public health and regulatory infrastructure, the progress we make against flu through research and in the form of new vaccines and therapies will not benefit the public as intended. We must have a strong, well-funded CDC to coordinate with local and state entities to track the flu and implement evidence-based immunization strategies. We also need a strong, well-funded FDA to ensure both the safety and effectiveness of the flu vaccine and therapies to address illness caused by the virus, as well as enable new products to get to the public as soon as possible.

Likewise, the importance of public trust and acceptance of vaccines to mitigating the impact of the flu cannot be overstated. While recent studies have shown that the public perception of vaccines and their importance is improving, the data also suggests that greater investments are needed in patient and family education regarding the importance of vaccines and to increase the rate of vaccination among all populations. In May 2018, ASM partnered with Research!America to commission a nationwide online survey of 1,004 adults in the United States. The survey, conducted by Zogby Analytics, found that a majority of Americans agree that federal support to address infectious disease outbreaks is essential and vaccines are important to the health of society.2

However, recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S. and around with world, coupled with data showing less than 50% of adults in the U.S. get an annual flu shot, illustrate that we must increase our education and outreach efforts. ASM supports the VACCINES Act (H.R. 2862), which has been referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee, and if enacted would provide much needed resources to the CDC to improve surveillance, data collection and public education. This is necessary if we are to better understand why individuals choose not to be vaccinated against diseases, including the flu.

Also worth noting is that the ASM survey showed that 95 percent of respondents thought infectious and emerging diseases facing other countries will pose a major or minor threat to the United States in the next few years. Like all microbes, the flu knows no borders and the development of new strains around the globe can and will affect us here in the U.S.

The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, which Congress passed earlier this year, authorizes the necessary resources to build and sustain the infrastructure needed for federal and state governments to respond to potential and declared public health emergencies in a timely and coordinated manner. The seasonal threat of flu under consideration today demonstrates why these resources are so critical. Our nation’s security calls for the need to prevent and mitigate a major disease outbreak, and the flu is a prime example of a threat that persists year to year.

ASM stands ready to assist Members of the Committee and the Congress in supporting basic and clinical research, public health surveillance, outreach and education, evidence-based policies surrounding annual immunizations, and the development of effective therapies. Through federal support across multiple agencies, we can continue to make progress against the flu.
The American Society for Microbiology is the largest single life science society, composed of 30,000 scientists and health professionals. ASM's mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences. ASM advances the microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications and educational opportunities. It enhances laboratory capacity around the globe through training and resources. It provides a network for scientists in academia, industry and clinical settings. Additionally, ASM promotes a deeper understanding of the microbial sciences to diverse audiences.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Author: ASM Advocacy

ASM Advocacy
ASM Advocacy is making it easy and providing opportunities for members to advocate for evidence-based scientific policy.