EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — There’s a push in Washington to spend $1 billion over the next five years to encourage the development of a universal flu vaccine.

The new legislation, proposed by Connecticut U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey and several other senators, comes as preliminary figures released Friday suggest the current vaccine is only 36 percent effective.

“It’s a really pretty simple concept, but much more difficult to do than describe,” Blumenthal said.

The lawmaker unveiled the proposed legislation Saturday at a flu shot clinic in East Hartford. In his home state, 77 deaths have so far been attributed to the flu. Maine has had 43 flu-related deaths so far this season.

Blumenthal said a Connecticut company, Protein Sciences in Meriden, is currently among those working on a vaccine, with the help of existing funding from the National Institutes of Health. But he said more federal funding is needed.

Currently, $64 million is provided by NIH, through the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for grants to researchers and manufacturers conducting universal flu research.

Blumenthal called that “a pittance” compared with what is needed. Under the proposed legislation, there would be $200 million available annually over five years.

Besides Blumenthal and Markey, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith of Minnesota, and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland have signed on to the legislation.

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