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Highlights

Shortages of influenza vaccine in the 2004-05 and previous influenza seasons and mounting concern about recent avian influenza activity in Asia have raised concern about the nation's preparedness to deal with a worldwide influenza epidemic, or influenza pandemic. Although the extent of such a pandemic cannot be predicted, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), it has been estimated that in the absence of any control measures such as vaccination or antiviral drugs, a "medium-level" influenza pandemic could kill up to 207,000 people in the United States, affect from 15 to 35 percent of the U.S. population, and generate associated costs ranging from $71 billion to $167 billion in the United States. GAO was asked to discuss the challenges the nation faces in responding to the threat of an influenza pandemic, including the lessons learned from previous annual influenza seasons that can be applied to its preparedness and overall ability to respond to a pandemic. This testimony is based on GAO reports and testimony issued since 2000 on influenza vaccine supply, pandemic planning, emergency preparedness, and emerging infectious diseases and on current work examining the influenza vaccine shortage in the United States for the 2004-05 influenza season.

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