Minn. lawmakers work to prevent future flu epidemics

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9-month-old Andrew McAllister was rushed to the ER on Jan. 26. At 6-months-old he received the recommended two doses of the vaccine, but the little guy still got the flu.

The CDC reports this season’s flu has claimed the lives of 63 children across the country – including one in Minnesota.

Flu-related hospitalizations in Minn. have exceeded those in four of the last five flu seasons – and we’re only half way through the winter.

Already more than 3,800 hospitalizations have been flu-related compared to last season’s total of 3,700 hospitalizations. Unfortunately, it may not be over yet.

This year’s flu season marks one of the worst since the 2009 swine flu outbreak.

“There is a greater than normal need for IV bags and saline solution in Minn. and across the country,” announced U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) on Sunday afternoon at Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina.

By now we all know the key to fighting the flu is hydration, but exacerbating the outbreak is the country’s current IV and saline solution shortage. A shortage that’s gone from bad to worse after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico.

“Puerto Rico is home to several saline production facilities that were damaged by the hurricane just as hospitals were stocking up for this year’s flu season,” said Sen. Klobuchar.

Surrounded by several health care professionals, Klobuchar called on the FDA to do more to address the already four-year-long shortage.

The shortage has also been worsened by the unusually severe flu season this year.

One out of every 13 trips to the doctor across the country last week was for flu-like symptoms. 

“The vaccine we have now is good, but it’s not adequate,” said University of Minnesota Medical School’s Dr. Shane McAllister. “What we need is the vaccine that covers multiple strains and provides immunity that is durable over multiple flu seasons.”

McAllister himself had to rush his nine-month-old son Andrew to the emergency room last week after Andrew experienced a 102 fever during his time at daycare. Andrew became ill despite having received the recommended two doses of the flu vaccine at six-months-old. 

On January 26th it was confirmed. Andrew was diagnosed with the flu. McAllister then started the infant on Tamiflu within three hours of his first fever. 

Fortunately, the little guy has since made a full recovery. 

McAllister shared his family’s personal story at Sunday’s presser to further express the need for stringent improvements to the flu vaccine. 

“We will continue to give [Andrew] the flu vaccine every year, but I do hope we have a better one to offer him very soon,” Dr. McAllister said.

So far there have been 400 outbreaks at Minnesota schools and more than 130 outbreaks in the long-term care facilities. 

“We need to get to the point where the viruses have to work to keep up with us,” said Dr. Kevin Nelson of Fairview Health Services.

Why Sen. Klobuchar also announced she, too, supports more funding and research for a more effective vaccine. 

“Traditional flu vaccines target only three to four strains of the flu and range in effectiveness from 10-60%. This research would help us to develop a universal vaccine that would help protect us from all variations of the flu. That kind of breakthrough would go a long way in keeping people healthier,” Klobuchar affirmed. 

Meanwhile, it remains unclear exactly how many people have died across the country as a result of the flu or flu-related complications. 

The number of flu-related deaths that are connected to the IV and saline solution shortage also remains unknown. 

Epidemiology Manager for Hennepin County, Dave Johnson, told FOX 9 that by the end of the season we could see a total of 50,000 flu and/or flu-related deaths across the country.

Fairview Health System’s Chief Nurse Executive Laura Reed told FOX 9 hospital staff is taking measures to minimize the impact of the saline and IV shortage.

“The measures include using different amounts of saline and IVs when it’s safe or appropriate to do so,” Reed said. “Fairview’s medical staff are also utilizing best practices to prevent waste with patient safety as the priority.”

Sen. Klobuchar said this weekend’s late night government funding vote will help with disaster relief in Puerto Rico and that the FDA has responded to the shortage by shipping more supplies from other safe places. 

Efforts must continue nonetheless to alleviate the source of the problem. 

“The saline shortage has been temporarily taken care of but we could see more of it, so we need to get those production facilities [in Puerto Rico] going again and we also need to bring in saline from other places for the IVs,” Sen. Klobuchar explained.

Sen. Klobuchar plans to introduce the Flu Vaccine Act next week.