New options for influenza vaccine development are an important component of pandemic preparedness.
Expanding vaccine solutions against influenza
Seasonal and pandemic flu outbreaks have a history of taking a heavy toll on populations around the world. In today’s mobile and interconnected world, an influenza virus can cross geographic and political boundaries as quickly as its carriers can catch an airplane. In a pandemic situation, a highly virulent flu strain could lead to substantial disease and death.
PATH is advancing new technologies and expanding vaccine supplies to help prepare for an influenza pandemic. We’re also evaluating the potential of existing technologies to save lives in developing countries, which tend to be less prepared for both seasonal and pandemic outbreaks.
The need to prepare
In recent years, the avian flu virus has concerned influenza experts, who are on the lookout for influenza that could be fast-spreading and cause severe disease. The avian flu virus has killed millions of birds and spread from birds to humans, killing several hundred people. Public health leaders are following the virus to see if it evolves to spread efficiently between humans, opening the door for a possibly deadly pandemic.
In 2009, the spread of the influenza A(H1N1) virus reached pandemic status and further galvanized the global health community to prepare for worst-case scenarios.
Efforts to prepare for flu outbreaks are mostly concentrated in industrialized countries—a challenging irony given developing countries often experience more severe disease, with higher mortality, and have limited health care. Further, flu can occur year-round in developing countries, and tight living conditions make people especially susceptible.
Vaccines—rapidly developed, produced, and distributed—are the best way to protect against influenza and could save millions of lives during a flu pandemic.
Through partnerships with public- and private-sector organizations, PATH is taking a multifaceted approach toward developing vaccine solutions to protect against influenza.
We are supporting the development of promising new vaccines against flu that can be accessible for developing countries. Our efforts are primarily focused on technologies in early stages of development that could be affordable for all during flu outbreaks and available in real-time in a pandemic.
We believe that live attenuated vaccines made from weakened influenza virus are particularly promising due to their potential to be produced cheaply, quickly, and in large quantities. In addition, we’re looking to apply recombinant technologies to produce influenza vaccines that can be manufactured more efficiently than conventional influenza vaccines. We’re also exploring new vaccine additives, or adjuvants, that could improve the immune response and conserve doses by reducing the amount of antigen needed to make the vaccine effective. Further, we are supporting early-stage research to broaden the ability of vaccines to protect across influenza strains.
New options for influenza vaccine development and production are an important component of pandemic preparedness for both poor countries and the world community. We’re working to enhance local and regional influenza vaccine production in the developing world by assisting emerging-country manufacturers with preparations to supply high-quality influenza vaccines that can be affordable and accessible in influenza outbreaks.
We’re also pursuing a better understanding of flu patterns in tropical, developing countries where disease infection rates are not well known. As part of this effort, we are enhancing surveillance and evaluating the impact of the current seasonal influenza vaccines in these countries.
Photo: David Jacobs.