Tom Harkin - U.S. Seante

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today introduced the Seasonal Influenza and Pandemic Preparation Act that would provide free flu shots to those that need one and help strengthen the nation’s vaccine infrastructure. The legislation would also help strengthen preparedness efforts for seasonal and pandemic flues. Harkin, the ranking Democrat on the panel the funds health care initiatives, has been calling on the Bush Administration to implement a plan to prepare for a potential avian flu pandemic.

“I have always said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Harkin. “This plan will not only help provide free and accessible vaccinations, it will help spur demand and build the strong vaccine infrastructure this country needs. I believe this type of forward, out-of-the-box thinking can go a long way to preparing us for seasonal flu today and pandemic flu tomorrow.”

Through the legislation, Iowans and others throughout the nation would be able to go to physician’s offices, hospitals, schools, participating retail outlets, pharmacies and faith based institutions to receive a free flu vaccine on a voluntary basis. The bill would create partnerships between local health providers and the private sector, faith based groups, and schools to increase the availability of the vaccine. This approach will stimulate demand and help to increase vaccine manufacturing capacity in the United States.

It would also create a network of trained volunteers, the Volunteer Vaccine Corps, to help health care professionals deliver the vaccines to those who want one. The Corps will help vaccinate people against seasonal flu and can help staff a national effort to vaccinate people if avian flu strikes. Importantly, the legislation will help develop the systems necessary to vaccinate a large number of people, improving our ability to manage a pandemic flu outbreak.

Influenza viruses cause 20,000 to 40,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Many of these deaths could be prevented with increased influenza vaccination rates. Experts estimate that 90,000 to 300,000 Americans and up to 50 million people worldwide could die if left unprotected during an influenza pandemic.

As a leader in Congress on public health issues, Harkin has pushed aggressively to strengthen the federal government’s focus on wellness and disease prevention. He has aggressively pushed for funding for avian flu preparedness in the Senate. Harkin significantly increased funding for the Centers for Disease Control, bolstered its prevention programs, and authored legislation changing the agency’s name to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Along with Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), he doubled funding for the National Institutes of Health over a five year period.

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