The House Energy and Commerce Committee are questioning the efficacy of the U.S Department of Health’s influenza epidemic vigilance and plan of action. On December 23, the committee sent a letter to Dr. Nicole Lurie, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services, expressing overall concern about the age and effectiveness of the nation’s stockpile of pre-pandemic vaccines. There is concern that the match of vaccine stockpiles that were purchased 10 years ago are not compatible against today’s circulating strains. As an example, these lawmakers pointed to strain of H5N1 – otherwise known as avian flu – emerging in Egypt this year, and stated that it is “not necessarily the H5N1 strain that emerged in Vietnam in 2004.”

Officials requested that Lurie provide them with the results of vaccine testing carried out by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).  “We would be interested in the test results to determine whether the vaccines would provide protection against the circulating avian flu viruses which devastated US poultry this year.” The lawmakers also reminded Lurie that the government’s detection, preparedness and response plan states that the nation should have “sufficient vaccine to vaccinate the entire US population within six months of the emergence of a virus with pandemic potential.”

The committee members asked Lurie to answer a series of questions by January 16. Some of the questions inquire about data on the results of BARDA vaccine testing, information on the status of the development of new H5N2 and H5N8 vaccines, data on the effects of long-term storage on vaccine efficacy and an inquiry about how much funding will be sufficient to “maintain and replenish” vaccine stockpiles going forward.

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