On Wednesday, February 7, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar received a briefing on preparedness and response efforts for seasonal and pandemic influenza from Acting CDC Director Anne Schuchat, NIH National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, and Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec.|
Also in attendance and participating were Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan, Acting AssistantSecretary for Health Don Wright, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research Director Peter Marks, and HHS Office of Global Affairs Director Garrett Grigsby, all of whom are participating in flu preparedness and response efforts.
Secretary Azar discussed the opportunity he has had to oversee HHS’s ongoing flu activities since coming onboard at the department, and noted that he worked with many of the public health leaders present for the briefing during his previous time at HHS.
The department has been actively monitoring and responding to this year’s especially severe flu season, which has seen hospitalizations reach the highest levels since HHS began tracking such data closely in 2010 and simultaneous high levels of flu activity in more regions of the country than usual. HHS is also continuing efforts in the U.S. and around the world to build preparedness for outbreaks of pandemic flu strains, such as H7N9.
Dr. Schuchat presented on the status of seasonal flu in the U.S. and pandemic flu around the world, including statistics on intensity of activity, hospitalizations, and mortality, as well as CDC efforts to monitor and coordinate reliable supplies of seasonal flu vaccine and flu antivirals. She noted that information about the effectiveness of this year’s seasonal flu vaccine, which is still available and recommended for almost all Americans, will be released soon.
Dr. Fauci’s briefing covered ongoing research efforts, some supported by HHS, to develop more effective seasonal and pandemic flu vaccines, including a universal flu vaccine. Dr. Kadlec covered efforts being undertaken in conjunction with the private sector, including at HHS’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, to develop and procure pandemic flu vaccines in greater volume and with greater effectiveness.
In closing, Secretary Azar and the leaders present agreed to continue working together on this year’s ongoing prevention efforts and noted a number of issues on which to coordinate going forward.
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