Amidst a Pandemic & Ahead of Flu Season, Murkowski and Colleagues Send Bipartisan Letter Calling for Americans to Receive Critical Immunizations

Carper, Murkowski, Hassan, Smith press HHS, CDC to take steps to make sure vulnerable populations, especially children and seniors, receive vaccines

Amidst a pandemic and ahead of flu season, U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Tina Smith (D-MN), called on the Administration – in partnership with state and local governments – to ensure all Americans continue receiving necessary immunizations to prevent additional illness and outbreaks.

In a letter to the leaders of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the bipartisan lawmakers called attention to low immunization rates even before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, despite the fact that childhood vaccines are one of the most cost-effective and life-extending public health interventions providing immunity to infectious and deadly diseases. In fact, vaccination to the seasonal flu could prevent up to 810,000 hospitalizations and 61,000 deaths each year. Additionally, low adult immunization rates for vaccine-preventable diseases cost the U.S. economy about $9 billion each year.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, adherence to the yearly influenza vaccination varies across state, age group, and demographic information. In 2017, only 37 percent of adults adhered to the recommendations, a 6-percentage point drop from 2016… Should our Nation’s influenza immunization rates remain low as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we could see an unprecedented strain on our healthcare resources and an inconceivable death toll. A high influenza disease rate will make it difficult to distinguish between the two viruses, resulting in diagnostic uncertainty. This can lead to mistreatment, coinfection, and confusion about how to respond to symptoms, further impeding public health properly,” the lawmakers wrote.

The senators noted, “Vaccines are only effective in preventing outbreaks if enough people are immunized, achieving herd immunity. However, a recent Gallup poll found that if the federal government offered free, FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines today, 35 percent of Americans would not agree to be vaccinated. Despite communities of color being disproportionately affected by COVID-19, this rate was even higher for non-white Americans, at 41 percent. In rural areas, the rate was 44 percent…The high level of hesitancy among Americans for a COVID-19 vaccine is alarming and must be carefully addressed to achieve herd immunity. As Americans are recommended to receive their seasonal influenza vaccine by the end of October, we urge that the Administration carefully monitor the rate at which these vaccines are administered to avoid a dual outbreak of COVID-19 and seasonal influenza.”

The senators requested answers to their inquiries no later than October 23. The letter is available here.

Related Issues: Health, COVID-19 Resource Page