More like flu vaccine?
The advisers discussed the possibility of making COVID-19 vaccine development similar to the process for the flu vaccine but acknowledged many difficulties.
The flu predictably hits during the winter in each hemisphere and a global surveillance network helps the World Health Organization decide on the vaccine strains each year. Then each nation’s regulatory and public health officials choose the strains for their shot and vaccine makers begin what is typically a 6-month-long manufacturing process.
COVID outbreaks have happened during all seasons and new variants haven’t always hit every country in a similar fashion. The COVID virus has mutated at five times the speed of the flu virus – producing a new dominant strain in a year, compared with the 3-5 years it takes for the flu virus to do so, said Trevor Bedford, PhD, a professor in the vaccine and infectious disease division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
Global COVID surveillance is patchy and the WHO has not yet created a program to help select strains for a COVID-19 vaccine but is working on a process. Currently, vaccine makers seem to be driving vaccine strain selection, said panelist Paul Offit, MD, professor of paediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “I feel like to some extent the companies dictate the conversation. It shouldn’t come from them. It should come from us.”
“The important thing is that the public understands how complex this is,” said temporary committee member Oveta A. Fuller, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Michigan. “We didn’t get to understand influenza in 2 years. It’s taken years to get an imperfect but useful process to deal with flu.”
A version of this article first appeared on WebMD.com.