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Berkshire Eagle: Sen. Markey wants $1B to tackle flu

Amid one of the worst flu seasons in recent years, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey on Thursday proposed a $1 billion investment towards developing a “universal influenza vaccine.”

Markey’s idea is to provide $200 million to the National Institutes of Health from fiscal 2019 through fiscal 2023 and give the agency the assignment to “conduct or support comprehensive research for the creation of a universal influenza vaccine that could be administered once or twice and provide a lifetime of protection,” the senator’s office said.

“America’s scientists and clinicians are gold medalists in health and disease research, and is it is up to the United States to lead the world in the response to the flu,” Markey said in a statement. “We must enhance our ability to predict the right strain for the next season, produce a more optimal vaccine, and protect all Americans against all strains of this virus.”

Markey said the flu costs the U.S. $10.4 billion in direct medical costs annually and $87 billion in total economic burden. This flu season has already led to 63 pediatric deaths and higher-than-average rates of illness and hospitalization, Markey said.

On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced that a child under 10 from Essex County had died from the flu, the first pediatric flu-related death in the state this season. Last flu season there were two pediatric flu-related deaths in Massachusetts.

“This is a tragic reminder of how serious the flu can be for some people,” Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said in a statement. “Every flu season is different, but every flu season is bad. This one arrived early and continues to spread, leading many people throughout the Commonwealth to get sick.”

DPH estimated that between 250 and 1,100 Massachusetts residents die annually from complications of the flu. There have been more than 8,100 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu in Massachusetts this flu season, DPH said.