Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is asking the directors of three federal agencies for answers about how the H1N1 flu epidemic was handled in the past year. Grassley is sending a letter to the heads of the F.D.A., the C.D.C. and Health and Human Services. Grassley, a Republican, says the American people deserve to know how the five companies that made the vaccine were chosen — and what went wrong in the process that forced “truckloads” to be returned.
“The recall raises some questions,” Grassley says. “It was developed and put on the market very quickly. In this case, it was an emergency and had to be done. The purpose of the questions is to get information for the public record and hold agencies responsible.” Grassley also wants a tally of how many doses of the vaccine have been purchased, how many have been used and what the companies were paid per dose. He also asks, in light of the two recalls last month, what’s being done to ensure the potency of the vaccines to be delivered in the months ahead.
“If there was any mistakes made, we know about it for any future (vaccinations),” Grassley says. “This is a massive government undertaking and general oversight of the government is an important responsibility of mine.” Between April and November of 2009, a federal report estimated there were as many as 67-million cases of H1N1 in the U.S. The Iowa Department of Public Health reports 40 H1N1 deaths in 2009 and around 700 hospitalizations.
State health officials say about one in every ten Iowans had H1N1, while the state has received more than one-point-one million doses of H1N1 vaccine. There was a shortage of seasonal flu vaccine reported in November, yet some 24-million doses had yet to be shipped nationwide. Grassley’s asking for a status report on those doses and what steps are being taken to prevent future seasonal flu vaccine shortages.
“The federal government is purchasing a lot of these drugs to be used for Medicare and Medicaid and we have a lot of taxpayers’ money at stake,” Grassley says. “Part of our job in administering government programs is to make sure that we protect the consumer the same way as if a private sector agency was doing it.” Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, says it’s his duty to ensure taxpayer dollars are appropriately spent on safe and effective drugs and vaccines.