1. Develop stronger vaccines

So how can the U.S. improve its ability to stop a new flu pandemic, as well as to reduce the annual impact of influenza infections?

First, researchers need to improve the flu vaccine. Most flu vaccine production currently relies on antiquated technology that requires experts to predict the most likely strains early each flu season. Manufacturers must grow the vaccine in chicken eggs, a process that takes weeks and limits the ability to make adjustments to the vaccine during the flu season.

Efforts are underway to develop new technologies, including a universal flu vaccine that could protect against multiple strains of influenza A, including novel strains, and last for several years.


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But the federal government has only allocated US$75 million this year toward flu vaccine research. This is not nearly enough. Ideally, there would be four or five times more federal money available for this research.

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2. Spot outbreaks early

Second, to prevent flu pandemics, public health officials need more and better information about influenza outbreaks.

Right now, the World Health Organization collects data on flu outbreaks from multiple sources in 114 countries. But much of the data – and the funding – for global surveillance comes from the U.S. and other wealthy countries.

This is not sufficient to detect a pandemic strain quickly enough. New strains are most likely to emerge in developing countries with dense populations and more frequent human-animal contact. In an increasingly interconnected world, emerging infections can spread rapidly through travel and trade, as with the 2009 swine flu outbreak.