The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday held a hearing to discuss this year’s severe flu season with the nation’s top health officials.
Overall, this year’s vaccine’s 36% effectiveness was slightly lower than in recent years, officials said, but it offered substantial protection against H1N1 flu (67%) as well as moderate protection against flu B viruses (42%) and better protection for younger children, CDC’s acting director Anne Schuchat explained.
“Importantly, the vaccine offered better protection against H3N2 for children six months to eight years old, with estimated effectiveness of 51%. Overall, the vaccine is 59% effective against both influenza A and B in children six months to eight years of age,” her written testimony said.
Hospitalization levels reached record-breaking highs for nearly all age groups, Schuchat tweeted
after the hearing, but those rates are now leveling off.
“Some vaccine protection is better than no protection,” Schuchat said.
She also dispelled several myths that seem to circulate every time there’s a bad flu season, including that the flu vaccine causes the flu (it doesn’t).
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s written testimony noted that federal agencies are working with industry on better flu vaccines, with improvements in manufacturing.
“Ultimately, developing a universal influenza vaccine that provides protection against many different strains of flu from year-to-year would be ideal. However, the reality of such a vaccine is likely to still be many years away,” Gottlieb’s written testimony said.
Anthony Fauci, director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), noted in his written testimony a handful of NIAID-supported universal flu vaccine research studies.
The hearing also touched on Japanese drugmaker Shionogi’s experimental flu treatment
, known as Xofluza, which was approved in Japan in late February, but which may not come before FDA until later this year.
Rick Bright, director of the Biomedical Advances Research and Development Authority, said his office has been engaged with Shionogi to bring the treatment to the US.
And Fauci noted that basic research conducted at NIH more than a decade ago was the basis for this latest development.
“Basic science is the root of everything we do, even something that turns into a product made by a Japanese company,” Fauci said.
Bright added in his written testimony that BARDA is also working to modernize antiquated flu vaccine production.