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Mr. NEAL. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
I rise in support of H.R. 475, a bill to update the excise tax on vaccines against seasonal influenza.
Year after year, the flu poses a threat to millions of Americans, causing between 24,000 and 49,000 deaths and 226,000 hospitalizations each year. In fact, my home State of Massachusetts had over 28,000 confirmed cases of flu this past season. The flu is particularly life-threatening for our Nation's most vulnerable, the elderly and children. During the most recent flu season, there were 150 pediatric deaths across the Nation, and it is estimated that 90 percent of those children were not vaccinated.
America must prepare for the next flu season. Public health and medical professionals, hospitals and vaccine manufacturers are moving quickly to prepare for the upcoming season by manufacturing new vaccines and educating the public about the importance of preventing the flu. One critical step in this preparation is to make certain that the newest and most effective flu vaccine will be available to the public.
To do that, I introduced this legislation that we're acting upon today with my friend, Congressman Gerlach, to update our law to ensure access to new flu vaccines.
The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program was established in 1986 to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines, stabilize vaccine costs, and establish and maintain an accessible and efficient forum for individuals found to be injured by certain vaccines to be compensated. These awards are funded by a 75 cent per dose excise tax on vaccines that are widely used and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for routine administration to children.
The program requires congressional action from time to time because unless the excise tax is assessed on a particular vaccine, it is not covered by the program, and therefore, those injured can't be compensated under the program.
Currently, the excise tax on seasonal influenza vaccine applies only to three-strain vaccines and excludes any non-three-strain vaccines. But for the flu season, three new advanced influenza vaccines will be available. These vaccines will provide broader protection against the flu because they can combat more strains of the virus. Therefore, we must amend the excise tax law to include the advanced flu vaccine.
To ensure access to the new vaccine, our bill would apply the excise tax to all vaccines against seasonal influenza just as it has in the past.
It is very important to note this will not increase the tax or change the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Let me repeat. It is very important to note that this will not increase the tax or change the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.
It's also important to note that this legislation does not affect in any way the FDA approval process. Vaccines for children, adolescents, and adults are approved and recommended through a rigorous, multiyear process. Vaccines must be approved by the FDA and then must also be evaluated and formally recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before they are administered by health care providers or covered by health insurance programs.
Before concluding, I'd like to note that this legislation has broad support, including AARP, Every Child by Two, Families Fighting Flu, Immunization Action Coalition, Infectious Diseases Society of America, and MassBio.
Our legislation brings the excise tax into alignment with the most recent developments in medicine. The quick enactment of H.R. 475 is critical to making the newest seasonal flu vaccines available for the 2013-2014 season.
I urge the House to pass this legislation as quickly as possible, and I reserve the balance of my time.
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