Influenza is associated with an average of 36,000 deaths and more than 200,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States. Persons aged 65 and older are involved in more than 9 of 10 deaths and 1 of 2 hospitalizations related to influenza. The best way to prevent influenza is to be vaccinated each fall. In the 2000-01 flu season, and again in the 2003-04 flu season, this country experienced periods when the demand for flu vaccine exceeded the supply, and there is concern about the availability of vaccines for this and future flu seasons. There is also concern about the prospect of a worldwide influenza epidemic, or pandemic, which many experts believe to be inevitable. Three influenza pandemics occurred in the twentieth century. Experts estimate that the next pandemic could kill up to 207,000 people in the United States and cause major social disruption. Public health experts have raised concerns about the ability of the nation's public health system to respond to an influenza pandemic. GAO was asked to discuss issues related to supply, demand, and distribution of vaccine for a regular flu season and assess the federal plan to respond to an influenza pandemic. GAO based this testimony on products it has issued since October 2000, as well as work it conducted to update key information.
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