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Column: Developing a more effective flu vaccine

Klobuchar

WASHINGTON —  Earlier this year, Shane McAllister grew worried when his 9-month-old son, Andrew, developed a 102-degree fever. Shane is a Minnesota doctor, but even with his medical training, he was surprised to see his son quickly lose his cheerful energy and spirit. It scared him, so he rushed Andrew to the emergency room. It didn’t take doctors long to diagnose Andrew with a severe case of the flu. Thankfully, treatment returned the little boy to his normal self within a few days.

As a parent, I know that there’s no greater feeling of helplessness than having your child sick and hospitalized. No parent should ever have to go through a health scare with their child, and certainly not for the flu.

But too many do.

Last year’s flu was the worst we’ve seen in years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 80,000 Americans died of the flu last season — including 180 kids. Annually, the flu also costs the nation $10.4 billion in direct medical costs and $87 billion in total economic burden.

And in Minnesota, nearly 6,500 patients were hospitalized for influenza, including 699 outbreaks in schools and 211 in long-term care facilities.

People rely on the flu vaccine to keep themselves and their loved ones safe from the flu, yet the flu vaccine isn’t always as effective as it should be.

Some years the flu vaccine is more effective than other years depending upon what strain of the flu is spreading. Overall, the CDC has found that getting vaccinated for the flu reduces your chance of getting the flu by forty to sixty percent.

Too much is on the line, so we must redouble our efforts to improve the flu vaccine. And one of the best steps we can take is getting the FLU Vaccine Act signed into law.

Earlier this year, I joined several of my Senate colleagues to introduce this bill to help support critical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and finally develop a vaccine that would be effective across multiple strains of the flu. The bill’s objective is simple — to better protect Minnesotans and Americans everywhere from all variations of the flu.

In September, the Senate secured additional funding for the creation of a universal flu vaccine that I pushed hard for, but it’s not nearly enough to get a vaccine over the finish line. We must pass the FLU Vaccine Act to further support this critical research.

But even without a universal vaccine it’s still important to get a flu shot. While it might not be 100 percent effective, a simple shot that reduces your risk of serious illness or even death is well worth it.

Simply put, the flu shot saves lives.

So let’s both take the time to get a flu shot and take action to support the next breakthrough vaccine.  Because families, friends, and kids like Andrew are counting on us — in Minnesota and across the country.

For more information on the flu, including where to get a flu shot, visit Flu.gov.

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