HHS Secretary Urges States to Aggressively Prosecute Flu Vaccine Price Gouging
HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson sent a letter on Thursday to the Attorney General of each state urging them to thoroughly investigate reports of price gouging involving the flu vaccine and to prosecute those found to be taking advantage of the vaccine shortage.
"It is extremely disturbing to learn of reports of price gouging by immoral individuals looking to make a quick buck off of a public health challenge," Secretary Thompson wrote in the letter. "I am encouraging the attorney general of each state to thoroughly investigate reports of price gouging and prosecute those engaging in this immoral and illegal activity to the full extent of the law."
Secretary Thompson said it will take the good faith and cooperation of all Americans -- the public, doctors, nurses and public health professionals -- to ensure that the flu vaccine goes to those who truly need it most this flu season. Information on who is recommended to get the flu vaccine is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/whoshouldget.htm.
In the letter, Secretary Thompson said the CDC is collecting reports on price gouging and sharing the information with the National Association of Attorneys General and state prosecutors.
The full text of the letter is as follows:
October 14, 2004
Dear Attorney General:
The disappointing loss of half of our nation's flu vaccine due to manufacturing issues in England poses a serious challenge to our vaccine supply for the upcoming flu season. Chiron was to produce between 46-48 million doses for America, and we are calling on all Americans to work together to ensure the vaccine gets to those who need it most.
A vast majority of Americans are working to meet this test, but it is extremely disturbing to learn of reports of price gouging by immoral individuals looking to make a quick buck off of a public health challenge.
I am encouraging the attorney general of each state to thoroughly investigate reports of price gouging and prosecute those engaging in this immoral and illegal activity to the full extent of the law. The Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is collecting reports on price gouging and sharing it with the National Association of Attorneys General and state prosecutors.
We have faced vaccine shortages in the past, most recently in 2000-2001. We have worked through them successfully. And we need to come together to work through this challenge as well. Let's all work together to make sure those who really need the vaccine get it this flu season.
Tommy G. Thompson
HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, CDC Director Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research Director Dr. Jesse L. Goodman respond to the temporary delay in the Fall 2004 release of influenza vaccine. HHS Photo by Chris Smith
Secretary Thompson Recognizes National Latino AIDS Awareness Day
The second annual National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD) took place on Oct. 15. NLAAD is an opportunity for Hispanics to take action against HIV by learning more about the disease and getting counseled and tested for HIV.
A coalition of Latino and other health organizations worked together to organize national and local events across the country to bring people together in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The events included public concerts, free HIV testing, fundraisers, and workshops, all designed to raise public awareness about the devastating effects of the pandemic.
HIV and AIDS significantly impact Hispanics, who make up the largest minority group in the country. From 1999�2002 in the 29 U.S. states with longstanding reporting, HIV diagnoses among Hispanics increased 26 percent. Hispanics are more than three times as likely as whites to be diagnosed with AIDS, and AIDS is currently the third leading cause of death for Hispanics ages 35�44.
President George W. Bush continues to devote significant resources to stopping and rolling back the epidemic, and is committed to continued partnering with community- and faith-based organizations that provide services to communities in need. This year, the President has supported reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act, which provides support to those most in need, and made another $20 million available to deliver much-needed medication to HIV-positive individuals. Also, the President has requested $17.1 billion across the government to help fight the epidemic in the United States for fiscal year 2005 a 27 percent increase since 2001.
The Department of Health and Human Services is sponsoring a series of health fairs in Latino communities that will tie in with NLAAD. The next fair will be held in Phoenix, Ariz., on Oct. 17, followed by McAllen, Texas, on Oct. 24, Miami, Fla., on Oct. 31, Albuquerque, N.M., on Nov. 7, Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 14, Houston, Texas, on Nov. 21, and Los Angeles, Calif., on Dec. 5.
This year the department is also hosting a Web site devoted to NLAAD at www.omhrc.gov/hivaidsobservances/nlhaad/index.html. This Web site contains information about HIV/AIDS, testing, and vaccine research, as well as a media tool kit to help local groups organize and publicize their own NLAAD. In particular, the site will also include current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics on the epidemic and downloadable PSAs from CDC (titled Paremos el VIH. Empieza T�) and other concerned organizations. The messages are designed to heighten awareness of the epidemic among Hispanics and highlight the importance of HIV testing.
The department is pursuing the fight against HIV/AIDS on several fronts. It supports programs for prevention, care, and treatment and emphasizes voluntary HIV counseling and testing for at-risk individuals. Testing can provide early knowledge of HIV status, which can help people in need find medical assistance faster and help to control the spread of the disease. Additionally, the department is heavily committed to finding a vaccine for HIV, which requires community support and volunteers to take part in testing trials. To learn more about HIV/AIDS testing and research, visit www.AIDSinfo.nih.gov.
For more information about HIV/AIDS in the Hispanic community, visit the Office of Minority Health at www.OMHRC.gov and the CDC�s National Prevention Information Network at www.cdcnpin.org. You can also find information about NLAAD at www.latinoaids.org/nlaad/2004/home.asp. To find out where you can be tested, visit www.hivtest.org.
The term "Hispanic" includes those individuals who self-identify as "Latino/a" or "Hispanic."
By 2020, One in Two Americans Over Age 50 Will be at Risk for Fractures From Osteoporosis or Low Bone Mass
U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S., warned on Thursday in a new report that by 2020, half of all American citizens older than 50 will be at risk for fractures from osteoporosis and low bone mass if no immediate action is taken by individuals at risk, doctors, health systems, and policymakers. This new report, "Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General" says that 10 million Americans over the age of 50 have osteoporosis, the most common bone disease, while another 34 million are at risk for developing osteoporosis. And each year, roughly 1.5 million people suffer a bone fracture related to osteoporosis.
This report is the first-ever Surgeon General's report on the topic of bone health. Osteoporosis and other bone diseases, such as Paget's disease and osteogenesis imperfecta can lead to a downward spiral in physical health and quality of life, including losing the ability to walk, stand up, or dress, and can lead to premature death.
"This report will shape the way we approach, talk, and act about bone diseases," HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. "The more we learn, the more we realize that so many diseases are preventable, from obesity, to many types of cancer, and now bone disease. I want to thank Dr. Carmona and all the scientists and researchers who worked on this report. I look forward to the impact this new information will make in the health of communities."
Other findings in the report include:
About 20 percent of senior citizens who suffer a hip fracture die within a year of fracture.
- About 20 percent of individuals with a hip fracture end up in a nursing home within a year.
- Hip fractures account for 300,000 hospitalizations each year.
- The direct care costs for osteoporotic fractures alone are already up to $18 billion each year. That number is expected to increase if action to prevent osteoporosis is not taken now.
"Osteoporosis isn't just your grandmother's disease. We all need to take better care of our bones," Dr. Carmona said. "The good news is that you are never too old or too young to improve your bone health. With healthy nutrition, physical activity every day, and regular medical check-ups and screenings, Americans of all ages can have strong bones and live longer, healthier lives. Likewise, if it's diagnosed in time, osteoporosis can be treated with new drugs that help prevent bone loss and rebuild bone before life-threatening fractures occur."
According to the new report, osteoporosis is a "silent" condition because many Americans are unaware that their bone health is in jeopardy. In fact, four times as many men and nearly three times as many women have osteoporosis than report having the condition. One of the most dangerous myths about osteoporosis is that only women need to worry about bone health. Osteoporosis affects men and women of all races, and while bone weakness manifests in older Americans, strong bones begin in childhood.
The Surgeon General's report is a call for Americans to take action to improve and maintain healthy bones. The report includes recommendations on what Americans can do to decrease the likelihood of developing osteoporosis.
These recommendations include:
- Getting the recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D. High levels of calcium can be found in milk, leafy green vegetables, soybeans, yogurt and cheese. Vitamin D is produced in the skin by exposure to the sun and is found in fortified milk and other foods. For individuals who are not getting enough calcium and vitamin D in the diet, supplements may be helpful. The average adult under 50 needs about 1000mg of calcium per day and 200 International Units (IU) of Vitamin D (one cup of vitamin D fortified milk provides 302 mg of calcium and 50 IU of Vitamin D).
- Maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active at least 30 minutes a day for adults and 60 minutes a day for children, including weight-bearing activities to improve strength and balance.
- Taking steps to minimize the risk of falls by removing items that might cause tripping, improving lighting, and encouraging regular exercise and vision tests to improve balance and coordination.
The report also calls on health care professionals to help Americans maintain healthy bones by evaluating risks for patients of all ages, recommending bone density tests for women over the age of 65 and for any man or woman who suffers even a minor fracture after the age of 50. In addition, the report calls on health care professionals to look for "red flags" that may indicate that someone is at risk, including people who are under 50 who have had multiple fractures, or patients who take medications or have a disease that can lead to bone loss.
In addition to the release of the report, the Surgeon General has published a companion "People's Piece" specifically written for the American people. The magazine-style, full-color booklet offers ready-to-use information on how people can improve their bone health. The free People's Piece, The 2004 Surgeon General's Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis: What It Means To You, is available by calling toll free 1-866-718-BONE or visiting www.surgeongeneral.gov.
U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona speaks about "Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General", which warns by 2020, half of all American citizens older than 50 will be at risk for fractures from osteoporosis and low bone mass. HHS Photo by Chris Smith
Science in the News
Back to Sleep Campaign Marks Tenth Anniversary With Renewed Effort to Cut SIDS Rates in African American Community
The Back to Sleep campaign marks its tenth anniversary this October with renewed efforts to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in the African American community by reminding parents and caregivers to always place infants on their backs to sleep. The Back to Sleep campaign is sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health.
Since the campaign began 10 years ago, the SIDS rate for African Americans has declined dramatically, as it has for the total population. Still, the SIDS rate for African Americans is twice that of whites. During October, which is also SIDS Awareness Month, the Back to Sleep campaign will run public service announcements on radio stations around the country and display ads on buses in the Washington, D.C., area to remind African American parents, grandparents, and caregivers about reducing the risk of SIDS.
The bus ads and PSA scripts are available at http://www.nichd.nih.gov/sids.
Despite the dramatic decline in SIDS over the last decade, SIDS still claims the lives of roughly 2,500 infants each year. SIDS is the sudden, unexplained death of an infant in the first year of life. The causes of SIDS are still unclear and it is not yet possible to predict which infants might die of SIDS. However, it is possible to reduce factors known to increase SIDS risk:
- Always place a baby to sleep on his or her back — even at naptime
- Don't smoke around a baby
- Don't smoke if you're pregnant
- Place a baby on a firm mattress, such as in a safety-approved crib
- Remove soft, fluffy bedding and stuffed toys from a baby's sleep areas
- Keep blankets and other coverings away from a baby's nose and mouth
- Don't put too many layers of clothing or blankets on a baby
- Make sure everyone who cares for a baby knows that infants should be placed to sleep on their backs and knows the other ways to reduce SIDS risk
"We've made great progress over the last decade in cutting the SIDS rate for African American infants by almost 50 percent, but we need to reinforce our efforts," Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the NICHD said.
The recommendation to place infants to sleep on their backs resulted from years of careful research sparked by the observation that infants in other countries who were placed to sleep on their backs were less likely to die of SIDS. Research on European infants, funded by the NICHD, provided further evidence that placing infants to sleep on their backs reduced their risk of SIDS. Finally, a large study that took place in Chicago confirmed that the practice of placing infants to sleep on their backs helped reduce SIDS risk. The studies were needed to confirm that placing infants to sleep on their backs did not increase the risk for any other health problems. At the time the studies were undertaken, many health care providers feared that infants placed to sleep on their backs might choke on vomit if they happened to spit up during the night.
The research resulted in a 1992 recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that infants not be placed on their stomachs to sleep. Based on information from additional studies, the AAP later revised its recommendation to say that, unless there was a medical reason not to, that all infants be placed to sleep on their backs.
Over the last decade, research supported by the NICHD has yielded other findings on the benefits of back sleeping for infants and additional information on risk factors for SIDS. These findings include:
- Infants who sleep on their backs have fewer fevers and ear infections
- Infants who share a bed with other children or who sleep on soft bedding are at a higher risk of SIDS than are other infants
- Infants accustomed to sleeping on their backs who are then placed to sleep on their stomachs or sides are at an increased risk for SIDS — greater than the increased SIDS risk of infants always placed on their stomachs or sides
In 1994, the NICHD formed a coalition of national organizations to launch the Back to Sleep campaign. Since the start of the NICHD-led campaign that year, the SIDS rates for both groups have declined by about 50 percent, but a significant disparity still remains.
For additional information, please go to: http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/oct2004/nichd-13.htm
- Secretary Thompson has no public schedule this week.