In the midst of one of the worst flu outbreaks in years, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Sunday she wants to increase research aimed at developing a more effective flu vaccine.
So far in Minnesota this flu season, more than 3,800 influenza-related hospitalizations have been reported, and the season is only half over, she said. For the entire previous flu season, the total was 3,700.
Joined by health professionals in the lobby of Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina, Klobuchar said she and colleagues in Congress this week will introduce the Flu Vaccine Act. The bill will focus on getting more research underway at the National Institutes of Health.
Traditional flu vaccines target several strains and are 10 to 60 percent effective, Klobuchar said.
“Research would help us develop a universal vaccine,” she said. “That kind of breakthrough would go a long way in keeping people healthier.”
Klobuchar said she went to a funeral Saturday for the fiancé of a co-worker. He was in his late 20s.
“Being at this funeral last night, it hit home very quickly. He got the flu and now he’s gone,” she said.
Klobuchar and the medical professionals with her at the news conference repeatedly urged people to get the flu shot. There’s still time. It’s not perfect, but it will lessen symptoms for people who do get the flu, said Dr. Kevin Nelson, president of Fairview Physician Associates Network and a family physician in Richfield.
Klobuchar also talked about the shortage of saline solution, which has been a problem since 2014 and is vital for hydrating hospitalized flu patients. The shortage was exacerbated by the damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, home to several saline production facilities.
“While the FDA has taken some steps to address this recently, more needs to be done,” Klobuchar said. Making it easier to buy saline solution from other countries could help, she said.
Dave Johnson, epidemiology manager with Hennepin County Public Health, said the dominant strain of the flu this year is H3N2. At least one child in Minnesota has died, he said.