Influenza Vaccine Advances

What is being done to improve influenza vaccines?

Collaborative efforts in the United States across the federal government and the private sector over the past 9 years have led to improved influenza vaccine technologies that have either expanded vaccine supply or improved vaccine effectiveness and in some cases accomplished both of these goals.

What are the roles of the different federal agencies working on flu vaccine improvements?

Much of the work to improve influenza vaccine technology in the past 9 years has taken place under the auspices of influenza pandemic preparedness planning which is led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). BARDAexternal icon is charged with the advanced development and procurement of medical and non-pharmaceutical countermeasures for pandemic influenza preparedness and response, including flu vaccinesexternal icon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)external icon and the National Institutes of Health (NIH)external icon are partners in this broad inter-agency government effort.

As the nation’s leading public health agency, CDC’s primary role in this effort has been to provide the recommendations for the best public health use of existing influenza vaccines. CDC also plays a leading role in conducting surveillance for, helping to select, and producing vaccine viruses used in flu vaccine production. The agency also supports the development of new and better vaccines. For example, CDC’s Influenza Division is using new advanced molecular detection (AMD) and genetics technologies to develop better H3N2 vaccine viruses (that grow well in eggs and that create a good immune response in people). In addition, CDC monitors and reports on the effectiveness of existing influenza vaccines. FDA is the federal regulatory agency responsible for assuring the safety, effectiveness, quality, and security of drugs, vaccines and other biological products and medical devices. NIH is the nation’s medical research agency, a role which includes conducting clinical trials for vaccines.

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What advances have been made with flu vaccines in recent years?

  • a high dose vaccine that is designed specifically for people 65 and older to create a stronger antibody response;
  • a trivalent flu vaccine made with adjuvant (an ingredient added to vaccine that helps create a stronger immune response in the patient’s body), was approved for people 65 years of age and older;
  • an intradermal vaccine that requires less antigen for an equivalent immune response thus stretching vaccine supply;
  • the first U.S.-approved cell-based flu vaccine, which can be made more quickly than traditional egg-based vaccines and does not require a large supply of eggs to produce;
  • quadrivalent (four component) flu vaccines that protect against both lineages of influenza B viruses thus offering expanded protection against circulating influenza viruses; and,
  • the first recombinant influenza vaccines, which can be manufactured more quickly than either egg-based or cell-based vaccines and which does not require an egg-grown vaccine virus nor eggs to produce.

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What is the long-term goal of efforts to improve flu vaccines?

A longer term goal for flu vaccines is the development of a single vaccine that would provide safe, effective and long-lasting immunity against a broad spectrum of influenza viruses, both seasonal and novel. A flu vaccine with these qualities is often referred to as a “universal flu vaccine.”

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What is CDC currently doing to support development of a universal flu vaccine?

At this time, CDC is participating in a broad inter-agency partnership coordinated by BARDA that supports the advanced development of new and better influenza vaccines. These efforts already have yielded important successes. But part of this effort is the eventual development of a “universal vaccine” that would offer better, broader and longer-lasting protection against seasonal influenza viruses as well as novel influenza viruses. This task poses an enormous scientific and programmatic challenge, but a number of government agencies and private companies already have begun work to advance development of a universal flu vaccine.

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Where can I get more information about flu vaccine research?

More information on this topic is available at: