Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D- Wis. (Photo: Senate HELP) Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D- Wis. (Photo: Senate HELP)

The U.S. program for preventing and fighting a severe influenza outbreak is low on funding and in terrible shape, according to Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

Baldwin, D-Wis., today asked members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to help her provide $632 million in funding per year for influenza vaccination efforts at the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

Flu is of interest to life insurers, health insurers, disability insurers and agents because it continues to pose the threat of creating catastrophic health, disability and mortality risk.

Congress created BARDA in 2006 in an effort to set up a flexible, permanent program with the ability to respond to dangerous health problems, such Ebola outbreaks and flu pandemics. The current funding appropriation for BARDA expires in September.

Since 2006, funding for BARDA flu-fighting efforts has been poor, Baldwin said today at a Senate HELP hearing on S. 2852, the “Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act of 2018″ (PAHPA) bill, which would renew BARDA funding.

“Our flu stockpile is full of expired vaccine components,” Baldwin said.

The vaccine components BARDA does have fail to match the strains now circulating, Baldwin said.

(Related: Ebola Claims Two More Lives in Congo as Vaccinations Under Way)

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who helped lead the effort to create BARDA, and helped lead the effort to reauthorize support for the program in 2013, said he agrees with Baldwin that flu fighting efforts needs more support, but he said he wants to avoid imposingrestrictions on how BARDA uses its funding.

“We’ve never picked winners and losers,” Burr said.

Burr said that he wants managers of BARDA to be able to respond quickly to emerging threats, such as Ebola, and to threats that are now unknown, without having their hands tied by specific spending appropriation provisions.

The federal government has other flu-fighting operations, and it owns three-quarters of three flexibile facilities around the world that can provide surge flu vaccine production in case of a crisis, Barr said.

S. 2852

Members of the Senate HELP Committee voted 22-1 today to support S. 2852.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was the only member of the committee who voted against the bill.

The version of the bill the Senate HELP Committee approved did not include a specific flu fight provision, but Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the committee, said that issue and others may still come up as the bill heads toward the Senate floor.

The bill does include a provision, backed by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that would create an advisory committee on how to help people over 65 affected by disasters.

Links to more information about the hearing, including a video recording of the hearing, are available here.

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