House subcommittee discusses flu season with health agency heads

Officials from both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently gave testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

The questioning focused predominantly on the effects of the current flu season and flu preparedness in general. The panel heard directly from CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, FDA Chief Scientist Jesse Goodman and Healthcare Director for the Government Accountability Office Dr. Marcia Cross.

The CDC concluded that the influenza season started earlier this year than usual and that it has also been substantially more severe. The agency has been cautious about reports that the flu season has already peaked and that flu cases are expected to drop.

"At this point in the 2012-2013 influenza season, some vaccine providers have exhausted their vaccine supplies while others have remaining supplies of vaccine," Frieden said. "The increased demand for vaccine in some communities has made it more challenging for some people seeking vaccination to locate vaccine.

"In light of these challenges, CDC is working with state immunization programs to implement strategies that make the best possible use of available influenza vaccines. These include guidance for finding available flu vaccine for purchase and local options for vaccine redistribution."

The hearing also included questions about the potential effects of the upcoming automatic sequester cuts scheduled to occur in March. Frieden and Goodman vowed that their agencies will do their best, but they gave no specifics on how the cuts will be handled.