Government shutdown forces CDC to halt seasonal flu program

The shutdown of the U.S. government this week pushed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to furlough two-thirds of its staff. Without these employees, CDC's seasonal influenza program will stop, potentially limiting its ability to monitor the upcoming flu season.

Congress' failure to find a budget compromise and subsequent government shutdown has left CDC without the staff to carry out many of its functions, including the seasonal influenza program. CDC normally monitors the spread of flu to limit its impact, but, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warns, this program will stop during the shutdown.

With more than two-thirds of its 12,825 staff now furloughed, CDC will also stop its outbreak detection and infectious disease surveillance support programs. In the event of an outbreak during the shutdown, CDC will have "significantly reduced capacity" to respond and process laboratory samples, HHS warns. Furloughing of staff at the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) will also make the U.S. more vulnerable to outbreaks. Delays to preparations and responses related to H7N9 and MERS-CoV are among the potential consequences of ASPR furloughing 72% of its workers.

Activities with mandatory funding will carry on despite the shutdown, meaning CDC's Vaccines for Children (VFC) program will continue as normal. CDC reportedly ordered 18 million flu vaccines--more than 10% of all the doses shipped to the U.S.--for VFC and Section 317 programs in the upcoming influenza season. In previous years, CDC has also dipped into VFC funds to buy late-season influenza vaccines to protect kids in the event that supply is constrained in December, January and beyond.

- read the HHS document (PDF)
- check out the Huffington Post's take
- catch up on CDC's 2013 orders