NIAID Director Fauci: link seasonal and pandemic flu preparedness

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, delivered the keynote address Sunday, April 18, as part of a three-day conference on H1N1 Virus: The First Pandemic of the 21st Century, sponsored by the Emory-UGA Influenza Pathogenesis and Immunology Research Center.

One of the most important lessons from this past year’s pandemic, Fauci said, is the need to “connect the dots” between seasonal and pandemic influenza and not view them as two separate phenomena.

Fauci enthusiastically supports the CDC’s call for universal flu vaccination.

“Rather than trying to figure out one priority group over another,” Fauci said, “if we can get into a rhythm of getting most people vaccinated each year, we will have most of the population with some degree of immunity. We will get into a situation where we don’t need to go from a seasonal approach to a crisis approach.

“It wouldn’t take influenza off the table as something to worry about, but I think we could markedly diminish its negative public health impact both on a seasonal basis as well as the threat we face every year of some surprise coming and giving us another 1918. Herd immunity is real, it’s alive and well, and it works,” he said.

Although it’s unlikely scientists can come up with a vaccine that can cover all influenza, in a step-wise way we should be able to include some of the constant viral epitopes that change little from year to year through “drift or shift.” Such a vaccine might need to be boosted relatively infrequently.

Improved production and surge capacity of vaccines are also key, Fauci said. A big misconception is that cell-based vaccines will solve the problem. Instead, we need new, more efficient platforms that don’t require growing the virus, which can be agonizingly slow. “We need to bring influenza vaccinology into the 21st century.”

Video of Fauci’s complete talk is available online.

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