Health Tidbits

Before the start of the 2019 fiscal year on October 1, the House of Representatives passed several appropriations bills combined with a Continuing Resolution to fund the Federal Government. They have since been signed into law by President Trump.

I voted for the Continuing Resolution. The Continuing Resolution was combined with appropriation bills for the Departments of 1) Labor 2) Health and Human Services 3) Defense, and 4) Education.

These combined bills funded many important things. Today I’m focusing on some of the important health priorities.

Among them: funding for black lung clinics. For the 2018 fiscal year, I introduced an amendment along with Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) to provide $10 million for black lung clinics, the most funding ever provided for them. Fiscal year 2019 built on that success by providing $11 million to treat those suffering from black lung, an increase of $1 million.

Further, $1.63 billion in funding was provided for Community Health Centers. These centers are vital for treating many residents of the Ninth District, where 31 centers serve 76,000 patients according to 2017 data. These funds come in addition to $4 billion previously appropriated to Community Health Centers for the 2019 fiscal year.

Finally, $6.7 billion was provided to fight and treat substance abuse and increase access to mental health services. The money is going to agencies such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Not always but oftentimes, substance abuse and mental health issues overlap.

Every time we debate a bill this large, there are good things I call candy apples and bad things I call toads. In this case, the above-mentioned items were the candy apples that offset the toads.

Flu Season

The flu season is approaching. Young children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to the flu, but it can strike anyone.

Last year’s flu season was lengthy and severe, according to the CDC, causing high levels of hospitalization and emergency room visits. Tragically, it included the highest number of flu-related deaths reported in children during a single season in many years.

Influenza is an enduring threat to health in part because it is difficult to predict. The genetic material in flu viruses constantly changes.

For that reason, flu vaccines vary in effectiveness and must be reformulated each year. Manufacturers have to anticipate the genetic composition of the upcoming season’s prevalent flu strains so they can produce vaccines in time. If their estimate is off, the vaccine’s effectiveness declines.

One way vaccine creators prepare for a flu season is looking at the flu strains in Australia. As winter occurs there while summer takes place in the Northern Hemisphere, its flu season offers clues about what may lie in store for us. However, if the flu strains that hit us here differ substantially, it may be too late to change the vaccine for large-scale production.

Last season’s vaccination effectiveness varied depending on the flu strain. Vaccines for the dominant strain, H3N2, had a relatively low rate of effectiveness.

Ongoing research may provide a nimbler response to flu viruses. One key might lie in how vaccines are developed. At present, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves three methods for manufacturing the flu vaccine: egg-based, cell-based, and recombinant-based.

The most common manufacturing process for vaccines is egg-based. These vaccines take about 22 to 24 weeks to produce and are responsible for 80 to 85% of the flu vaccines manufactured.

Egg-based vaccine production has been used for more than 70 years. Other forms of vaccine manufacture can be produced faster. The FDA approved cell-based vaccine manufacturing in 2012; this production process takes about sixteen to seventeen weeks. Recombinant flu vaccine manufacturing, approved in 2013, can produce vaccines even faster, taking about twelve to fifteen weeks.

If vaccines are produced faster, they can better respond to the virus strains seen once flu season commences.

For those who take the vaccine, it ought to be the most effective for that particular flu season, which is why some other members of the Energy and Commerce Committee and I have been pushing the FDA, the CDC, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (part of the National Institutes of Health) on ways to increase use of faster vaccine manufacturing methods.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.