03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Are We Ready for a Flu Pandemic?

With the height of the flu season quickly approaching and our children heading back into the classroom, I recently led a full Committee hearing to examine the Obama Administration's Flu Vaccine program. I wanted to hear from the individuals who are responsible for implementing the vaccine plan about its likely effectiveness in the event of an outbreak.

The heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, along with the Deputy Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, testified before the committee I chair, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, about the Administration's vaccine plan and their diagnosis of the anticipated severity of the H1N1 virus.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC Director testified that his agency is actively preparing for the ongoing flu pandemic, and in addition, the agency developed a voluntary national vaccination campaign to protect the American people from the virus. Dr. Frieden stressed that the H1N1 vaccination, which is the best means to protect against this flu, has been approved and is in production. He also noted that the CDC would work extensively with state and local health officials to ensure that adequate resources are available.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infections Diseases, testified that we are still in the early stages of understanding the H1N1 virus, and that the virus may change in the future. However, he pointed out that the tireless efforts of the National Institute of Health (NIH) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are giving researchers and scientists a significant leg up in responding to a future pandemic, however it unfolds, and that the country will be ready in the event of an outbreak.

Highlighting the FDA's role in addressing the nation's pandemic flu preparedness, Dr. Jesse Goodman, the Acting Chief Scientist and Deputy Commissioner for Scientific and Medical Programs, asserted that the FDA is prepared to work hand in hand with HHS and CDC to mobilize the emergency public health response in the event of an outbreak. Dr. Goodman also pointed out that while challenges remain, the initial results of the H1N1 vaccine development have been "gratifying."

We still have challenges to overcome before our nation is fully prepared for a flu pandemic. The Administration must be prepared and ready to work with our state and local governments to develop a comprehensive strategy to administer enough vaccines to those with the greatest risk of exposure. No matter how much we try, the current - or an even more virulent - flu strain might eventually spread to large portions of the population. Because of this, it is critical that we keep focused on steps to keep key public health agencies ready to respond.

While we are hopeful for a mild flu season, I encourage all Americans to be vigilant and take the appropriate precautionary measures to avoid contracting or spreading the flu. At the same time, I will continue to monitor the Administration's vaccination plans because ensuring the well-being of the American people is my greatest responsibility.