THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2016

Legislation to make four-strain flu vaccine available passes House

Bipartisan legislation to make sure the public has access to a new, four-strain influenza vaccine for this year's flu season unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday.

H.R. 475, which was sponsored by Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), updates the current federal law by adding vaccines with protection against four viral strains of seasonal influenza to the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The program currently covers flu vaccines that protect against up to three strains of influenza virus.

"This legislation can help make the upcoming flu season less miserable for millions of Americans and avoid expensive hospital stays for those most susceptible to the flu," Gerlach said. "Most health-care professionals will tell you that getting a flu shot improves public health and lowers the risk of racking up expensive hospital bills, especially for children and seniors most vulnerable to suffering serious complications from the flu. I am extremely pleased that this bill received broad bipartisan support and hope that it soon becomes law so that vaccine makers can continue working to protect the public against constantly evolving health threats."

The bill will now go to the Senate. H.R. 475 is expected to pass easily before it is sent to President Obama to be signed into law.

The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program protects against frivolous lawsuits that could bankrupt healthcare providers and wipe out businesses. The program is funded by a 75-cent levy on each flu shot dose and on several other recommended vaccines. Gerlach said the small price per dose is more than worth it.

"If you think 75 cents is an outrageous amount to pay, consider that in Pennsylvania, the average cost of a hospital stay ranges from $649 per day to $1,921 per day, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation," Gerlach said. "There's absolutely no evidence that flu shots will cost one penny more if this bipartisan bill becomes law. In fact, the non-partisan number crunchers at the Joint Committee on Taxation analyzed the legislation and concluded there would be no new taxes and no windfall for the federal government."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, flu vaccination reduced flu-related hospitalized by 71.4 percent among adults of all ages during the 2011-2012 flu season. The number jumped to 76.8 percent in study participants aged 50 and up.