H1N1 delays, shortages, senator seeks answers

Released by Tina Gray with U.S. Senator John Cornyn's office:

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius expressing serious concern about the unacceptable delays and shortages in distributing the vaccine for H1N1, which is widespread in 46 states and has been linked to thousands of deaths. Texas was expected to receive 3.4 million doses of the vaccine earlier this month but has not yet received 1 million doses. In the letter, Sen. Cornyn urged the agency to devote its full attention to quickly addressing these issues. Sen. Cornyn also questioned the consequences of the agency not being able to run this program efficiently and the implications if a government run health care plan passed Congress.

"If the government can't run existing public health programs competently, why should we trust the government with even more responsibility-such as running a new government plan-in health care?" Sen. Cornyn asked.

The following is the letter Senator Cornyn sent...

Dear Secretary Sebelius:

I am writing with serious concern about the growing threat that the H1N1 virus poses to the public and the significant delays in the availability of the H1N1 vaccine.

Last Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that H1N1 was widespread in 46 states and has resulted in hospitalization of more than 20,000 Americans. Your testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee last week noted the unprecedented number of pediatric deaths that H1N1 has caused. CDC has reported that H1N1 has been linked to more than 1,000 deaths and associated with as much as another 2,400 additional deaths. The extent of this threat requires your full attention as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Over the last several years, your Department has been given billions of dollars to build an infrastructure to protect the nation against public health threats such as H1N1. In addition to the $1.44 billion your Department has sent to states and hospitals to plan and prepare for H1N1, your Department has spent nearly $2 billion specifically for the development and purchase of an H1N1 vaccine. Despite these taxpayer investments, the threat of the H1N1 virus grows more serious by the day, medical professionals are worried about the ability to handle a surge in H1N1 cases, and H1N1 vaccine delivery has fallen drastically behind schedule.

The Obama Administration has repeatedly promised that there will be enough federal vaccines to meet the demand for every American who wants to be vaccinated. Unfortunately, this promise is far from the current reality: H1N1 vaccine remains in limited supply throughout the country. My home state of Texas, for example, had expected to receive 3.4 million doses of the vaccine earlier this month, but has not yet received a million doses to date. In a state of 24 million people, even the promised 3.4 million is not enough to fight H1N1. The limited vaccine supply from the federal government has forced Texas to restrict the vaccine to pregnant women and children. And even those high-risk populations-who have waited months for a vaccine to be developed-are having to wait hours in line at the locations that are fortunate enough to have the vaccine.

President Obama's Friday decision to declare H1N1 swine flu a national emergency was absolutely necessary. However, because the Department of Health and Human Services has taken its eye off the ball, the emergency declaration only marks the tremendous amount of work yet to be done in order to protect the country from this serious threat. While I appreciate your words last week before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee to get "back on the track of the number of vaccination doses per week that [HHS] had originally anticipated," the reality is that success will take consistent action in the coming months-24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Instead of blaming manufacturers for the government's failure to meet its own deadlines, I urge you to work with vaccine-makers to find solutions. Rather than meeting behind closed-doors about a Washington health care overhaul and authorizing use of HHS' website for health reform propaganda, this nation is depending on you to make fighting the H1N1 virus your top priority as Secretary of HHS.

Congress is committed to providing whatever else you may need in the future in order to fight the H1N1 virus. We stand ready to work in a bipartisan manner to protect the public health. I urge you to devote your full and immediate attention to this, quickly address the delays, and report to Congress on what steps and protections are being put in place to ensure the delays and shortages will not happen again.

United States Senator