Bill to boost flu vaccine production picks up support

Nov 10, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – The current shortage of influenza vaccine has generated new support for proposed federal legislation introduced last January that would make the production of flu vaccine more financially attractive, according to sponsors of the bill.

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, announced recently that their proposed Flu Protection Act of 2004 has won endorsements from the American Public Health Association, the American Lung Association, and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

In a news release, Bayh and Craig expressed hope that Congress will act on the bill in its lame-duck session, which begins next week. They also said the number of sponsors for the bill has doubled to ten since the loss of flu vaccine from Chiron Corp. in October triggered the current vaccine shortage.

Among other things, the bill directs the government to buy any flu vaccine doses that manufacturers can't sell by the end of the flu season.

"It's a buy-back plan," Meg Keck, a spokeswoman for Bayh, told CIDRAP News. "It takes away the economic disincentive that the manufacturers currently face if they produce a surplus. Right now they have to eat that cost."

The legislation, Senate bill 2038, also offers a 20% tax credit for the cost of building or expanding vaccine production facilities, Keck said. The measure also directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop a contingency plan for dealing with future vaccine shortages and to run an annual public education campaign on the importance of flu vaccination.

Bayh and Craig said they wrote letters to Senate leaders and the Senate Appropriations Committee urging them to take up the legislation so that appropriate steps can be taken in time for next year's flu season. "The plan is ready, the support is growing—Congress needs only to act to protect the American people from another flu season nightmare," Bayh said in the news release.

Keck said the bill was introduced last January in the Senate Finance Committee and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. She noted that last year's flu season arrived early and concern about vaccine supplies had died down by January. The bill remained in committee because "there wasn't a sense of urgency at the time," she said.

Keck said she is not aware of any particular opposition to the bill. "I think it's a straightforward, fiscally responsible way to make sure we won't have another flu vaccine shortage," she said. She noted that Craig is the only Republican sponsor or cosponsor of the bill.

Bayh's news release said the legislation also calls for increased government-industry cooperation to provide accurate estimates of the amount of vaccine needed each year and authorizes funds to encourage the creation of more vaccine producers.

The bill calls for the CDC director to contract with manufacturers each year to produce the amount of vaccine the CDC thinks will be needed. If any of that supply remains unsold by the end of the flu season, the CDC would pay for it at a mutually negotiated price, the bill specifies.

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson has said he supports the idea of a government guarantee to buy flu vaccine in order to protect manufacturers from losses if the demand for vaccine is overestimated. Phone calls to HHS to ask about the department's position on Bayh's bill were not returned in time for this story.

A companion bill, HR 3758, has been introduced in the House by Rep. Rahm Emmanuel, D-Ill., and has 13 cosponsors.

See also:

Library of Congress's Thomas site for information on and text of Senate bill 2038 (search "S 2038")
http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.html

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