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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


The Evolution of Influenza Preparedness during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Author: Kristin L DeBord, PhD,Director, Strategy Division, HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response
Published Date: 6/29/2020 1:12:00 PM
Category: Hospital Preparedness; Medical Countermeasures; National Health Security; Public Health Preparedness;

New Federal Strategy Brings Continued Focus to Modernizing the Domestic Development and Manufacturing of Life-Saving Influenza Vaccines

On September 19, 2019, President Trump issued an executive order calling on public and private partners to modernize influenza vaccines to strengthen national security and public health. Today, I am proud to announce that the National Influenza Vaccine Modernization Strategy 2020-2030 has been released.  This strategy is aimed at building domestic capacity and capability through the use of new technologies to speed up the overall process of influenza vaccine manufacturing as well as other complementary medical countermeasures (MCM).

Strengthening Domestic Manufacturing and the Supply Chain

First, we must find end-to-end solutions by strengthening and diversifying influenza vaccine development and manufacturing, and address issues that threaten the supply chain.

We must strengthen our domestic manufacturing capacity to protect the American people from the threat of pandemic influenza viruses. By supporting a stronger vaccine enterprise, we not only enhance our ability to manufacture influenza vaccines, but we also can strengthen domestic capabilities that may be used to address other new and emerging threats.

Alternative manufacturing techniques – including cell-based, recombinant, and other synthetic technologies – have the potential to speed vaccine development and enable us to save more lives during an influenza pandemic. Innovations in adjuvants - ingredients used in some vaccines to help create a stronger immune response in people receiving the vaccine – are already being used to make effective vaccines that use less antigen.

These modern approaches are used to manufacture and optimize many different kinds of vaccines. By diversifying and strengthening U.S. manufacturing capacity and enhancing manufacturing techniques, we can help ensure the timely development of safe and effective vaccines to combat influenza and other emerging infectious diseases as well. 

Promoting Innovation

Next, the National Influenza Vaccine Modernization Strategy calls on public and private partners to push the boundaries of science and find new, innovative ways to detect, prevent, and respond to this old and persistent threat. Influenza viruses are constantly evolving and changing and we must use targeted investments and strong partnerships – including non-traditional partnerships - to help ensure that our response to this threat is one step ahead of the virus. 

Today, there are many potentially transformative approaches and technologies on the horizon - from platform technologies to innovative partnerships to the development of a universal flu vaccine that could provide robust, long-lasting protection against multiple strains of influenza. Moving these and other potentially groundbreaking technologies off the drawing board and into the clinic will require dedication, planning, and targeted investments.

In just a few months, the Trump Administration has spurred the development of a broad portfolio of innovative MCMs to address COVID-19, many of which rely on platform technologies. In fact, all five of the vaccine technologies currently supported as part of BARDA’s COVID-19 vaccine portfolio leverage platforms. By continuing to invest in platform technologies, we may be building our nation’s overall capacity to face persistent health security threats like influenza and new pathogens.

Protecting More People

Finally, the National Influenza Vaccine Modernization Strategy focuses on finding new ways to increase influenza vaccination in America. Although vaccination is the best way to protect against influenza, a shocking number of people – about 55 percent of adults and 48 percent of children during the 2017-2018 flu season – did not get vaccinated to protect themselves and the people around them from influenza.

We must also work to help ensure that new technologies are being developed to enable everyone to get vaccinated. Influenza vaccines must continue to be developed and refined to better protect special populations, including the elderly, young children, and people with special underlying medical conditions – the people who are often most vulnerable to influenza outbreaks and pandemics.

Partners across government and industry must work together to expand access to influenza vaccines, help people better understand the risks they face from influenza vaccination, make it easier to administer the vaccine, and enhance influenza vaccination tracking.

The Path Forward

Effectively protecting the American people from influenza disease, particularly an influenza pandemic, is a daunting challenge. We must take on that immediate challenge. Both federal and non-federal investment in influenza pandemic response is vital to help us prepare for the next influenza pandemic. Investing in enhanced platforms and domestic manufacturing capacity to support MCM, as well as promoting MCM access and uptake, will enhance our nation’s ability to address a variety of pandemic threats beyond influenza.

Now is the time for federal, state, local, tribal and territorial governments, private partners, non-governmental organizations, academia, professional associations, and international stakeholders to come together to embrace, coordinate, and develop next-generation technologies and solutions to combat seasonal influenza outbreaks and future pandemics. Many of the efforts described in the strategy can boost readiness to other emerging infectious disease like COVID-19. To learn more, check out the National Influenza Vaccine Modernization Strategy.


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