Washington, D.C. – Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-OR), Health Subcommittee Republican Leader Dr. Michael Burgess (R-TX), and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Republican Leader Brett Guthrie (R-KY) wrote to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D. to ask how the health agency is planning to manage COVID-19 response efforts with the challenge of simultaneously responding to infections of other respiratory disease, including influenza, during the fall and winter months. With jurisdiction over health care agencies, including the CDC, the committee conducts oversight on seasonal flu preparedness.
“We share your concerns about the unprecedented convergence of two highly contagious respiratory viruses that can cause life-threatening illness and death. Experts have noted that, in the upcoming influenza season, there could potentially be 100 million cases of influenza-like symptoms that could overwhelm current testing capacity. Health experts also note ‘the stress on hospitals will be greatest if the COVID-19 and influenza epidemics overlap and peak around the same time,’” said Walden, Burgess, and Guthrie.
In the last ten years, fewer than half of adults in the United States have typically received the flu vaccine. In their letter, E&C Republican leaders also identified the need the to increase the flu vaccination rate. They asked about actions the CDC is planning to take to ensure access to the flu vaccine and increase vaccination rates, especially for vulnerable populations.
“Health officials are particularly concerned about people at higher risk for both COVID-19 and influenza, such as African Americans and Hispanics, with traditionally lower vaccination rates. Public health experts have stressed the importance of high vaccination rates in the upcoming influenza season. Public health experts have stated that ‘[h]igh vaccine coverage would reduce influenza-related mortality, while also helping to preserve the capacity and function of the health system during circulation of influenza viruses and [COVID-19].’ In addition to preventing influenza, the influenza vaccine can also decrease the severity of illness,” continued Walden, Burgess, and Guthrie.
E&C Republican leaders have been concerned for months about the challenges our health care system could face when fighting COVID-19 and seasonal flu at the same time. That’s why E&C Republicans developed and released recommendations in their Second Wave Preparedness Project. In their letter, E&C Republican leaders reference some of these recommendations as potential tools to help mitigate these challenges.
“…simultaneous testing for COVID-19 and influenza can help boost the public health responses to both diseases. In the first pillar of the Committee Republicans’ Second Wave Report on testing and surveillance, we noted the importance of differentiating COVID-19 cases from influenza cases, to rapidly detect outbreaks and prevent co-infections. The report urged that combined diagnostic testing kits for both COVID-19 and influenza, also referred to as multiplex assays, be developed and made widely available for the fall,” continued Walden, Burgess, and Guthrie.
The leaders asked the agency for a briefing on responses to several questions, including how the committee can support the CDC. Full text of the letter can be found HERE.