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Universal Flu Vaccination—Laudable, But How and When?

Problems of Vaccine Quality and Production Remain To Be Solved

SEPTEMBER 2, 2010—Baltimore, MD— Recent calls for universal influenza vaccination are reasonable and should be heeded, but there is a need for new influenza vaccines that provide protection over a number of years, that provide better levels of protection, and that can be produced rapidly and in quantity, according to an editorial in the September 2010 issue of Biosecurity and Bioterrorism.

Coeditor-in-Chief D. A. Henderson, MD, MPH, believes that the recent CDC recommendation for universal flu vaccination is a logical extension of current practice, but it doesn’t indicate what priority should be assigned to achieving this objective or how it can be implemented. Despite the provision of special federal funds for vaccine during last year’s H1N1 epidemic, less than half of the population was vaccinated. And we do not know whether  increased federal funds will again be made available, or whether programs will have to rely primarily on scarce state and local resources.

Henderson also believes that a better vaccine is long overdue. Currently, the influenza vaccine is altered every year, and the virus used in the vaccine continues to be grown primarily in hens’ eggs—a system that has changed little over the past 50 years. This process results in a vaccine that may not be a good match for the season’s flu—protection may be only 70-80% in a good year—and that takes months to produce.

Henderson says that the technology can and must be improved: “Is it not possible to develop an influenza vaccine with properties that would provide a much broader base of immunity? Is it not possible to develop a vaccine that would provide protection over at least a 4- to 5-year period? Could not the efficacy of influenza vaccine be improved?”

Based on historical experience, there should be a significant decrease in influenza activity over the coming season. Major influenza epidemics will be back, however, so efforts need to be sustained to improve the quality and production methods for vaccines and to make plans for distributing them more efficiently.

The editorial, titled “Universal Influenza Vaccination: An Optimal Goal—But How and When?,” appears in the September 2010 issue of Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. ( The article is available free online at


Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science, a quarterly peer-reviewed journal, is published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. It provides an international forum for debate and exploration of the many key strategic, scientific, and operational issues posed by biological weapons and bioterrorism.

The Center for Biosecurity is an independent, nonprofit organization of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) whose mission is to strengthen national security by reducing the risks posed by biological attacks, epidemics, and other destabilizing events, and to improve the nation’s resilience in the face of such events.



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