Seasonal flu vaccines are our best protection against a dangerous and potentially deadly disease. Because the flu virus mutates so quickly, scientists update the vaccine every year based on the strains that are circulating that season. However, one thing that hasn’t changed in years is the way seasonal flu vaccines are produced.
Most influenza vaccines are made from inactivated (dead) viruses grown in chicken eggs. That means vaccine production is limited by the time it takes to produce an egg and grow inactivated virus(es) in that egg. For the annual flu vaccine, the vaccine manufacturing system functions like a well-oiled machine. However, the flu virus can mutate and become a pandemic, as we saw recently with the H1N1 flu and the 1918 flu. In a potential pandemic scenario, the timeline of egg-based platforms could severely limit vaccine production.
With COVID-19, the world has seen rapid innovation in vaccine research and development without cutting corners on safety and efficacy. This innovation has the potential to change, improve, and accelerate how we make flu vaccines. For example, mRNA vaccines have the potential to be both more effective in combating flu and more efficient to produce.
Funding for vaccine research and development often falls during non-pandemic periods. That lull stalls progress made during pandemic periods and possibly leaves the world unprepared for the next outbreak.
We must prepare for the next pandemic by utilizing the novel platforms and technologies developed to fight COVID-19 to improve influenza vaccines.
The National Academy of Medicine launched the “Advancing Pandemic and Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Preparedness and Response” Initiative to harness lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to better prepare and protect ourselves against influenza. To read more about the Initiative’s findings and recommendations, pleasesee here.
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