A flu pandemic could be even worse than Covid-19, says National Academy of Medicine

Work must begin now to begin developing next-generation vaccines, and building capacity in low- and middle-income countries so that they can make their own vaccines without relying on rich nations to make them available, the reports recommended. And governments need to figure out how to make sure companies have the incentives to work on these vaccines without knowing if they will ever be used or needed.

“However, from an epidemiological perspective, COVID-19 does not represent a‘ worst ’pandemic scenario, like the 1918-19 flu, which resulted in at least 50 million deaths worldwide,” the report reads.

Influenza kills anywhere between 290,000 and 650,000 people a year in a normal year, according to the WHO. Covid-19 has killed 5.1 million people worldwide. The next flu pandemic could kill 33 million people, the Academy said.

It’s hard to predict when a new flu pandemic will hit – but it’s certain that one will come.

“Group pandemics have occurred several times, and experts are concerned that the risk for a flu pandemic may be even higher during the COVID-19 era due to changes in global and regional conditions affecting humans, animals and their contact patterns. Although it is difficult to predict when it will occur,” a major flu pandemic is more a matter of “when” than “if,” it added.

One important recommendation: a global “moon shot” to develop a universal flu vaccine that would protect people from current and future flu strains. Current influenza vaccines need to be reformulated regularly, trimmed annually, and do not protect against emerging new strains that could cause pandemics.

And that needs to be done as a matter of global coordination.

“We have too many shortcomings, and too much depends on underfunded, often informal arrangements,” reads one of the reports. “Against the scale of the threat, we are sadly underprotected. We urgently need to strengthen our collective defenses against pandemic influenza and must do so in a sustainable manner.”

One report recommends having 4 billion to 8 billion doses of flu vaccine ready just in case.

“Readiness must be a lasting commitment – it can’t be year-over-year, or crisis-to-crisis,” said Dr. Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine, in a statement. “COVID-19 has enabled the emergence of new capabilities, technologies, cooperation and policies that could also be deployed before and during the upcoming influenza pandemic. It is important to invest in science, strengthen health systems and ensure trust to protect people from the health, social and economic consequences of seasonal and pandemic influenza. “

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One report specifically recommends that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, the Department of Defense and other agencies now invest in research on new and improved influenza vaccines. “This will allow selection of the most suitable for a target to be authorized and sufficient production and distribution to optimize influenza control across various settings and phases of pandemics and epidemics,” the report read.

The World Health Organization should advocate and coordinate with multilateral stakeholders (e.g., the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness News), governments, financial agencies, the vaccine industry and humanitarian organizations to build global capacity for robust and internationally comparable preclinical, clinical and immunological assessments of candidates for influenza vaccine, including new candidates that use innovative structures, targets, and delivery systems to possibly expand or improve protection, “it added.

One of the reports notes that the Covid-19 pandemic showed that face masks and physical distancing contributed to the drastic reduction of influenza activity globally. “Face masks would be simple and cost-effective during the upcoming flu pandemic, and public health agencies should demand their use when justified by the severity and incidence of flu,” the Academy said in a statement.

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