This article is a sub-article to “Could We Have Been More Prepared for the Coronavirus Pandemic?” See the full article.
While this pandemic is not an influenza pandemic, influenza systems are being utilized in COVID-19 response around the world.
Influenza systems are critical to public health and are uniquely positioned to help countries respond to pandemic or epidemic threats. For example, the capacities and mechanisms of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) are at work in more than 125 countries and are being used to detect and diagnose cases of the new virus. The WHO Global Initiative of Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) also enabled the rapid sharing of the first genetic sequence data for the novel coronavirus from China.
In addition to surveillance and data sharing, vaccines are a vital tool in public health response. The Task Force for Global Health’s Partnership for Influenza Vaccine Introduction (PIVI) builds and strengthens seasonal influenza vaccination programs in low- and middle-income countries, protecting them from the flu – which kills between 290,000-650,000 people annually – and creating capacities that can be used for other pandemic or epidemic threats. As a result, influenza vaccination programs are a key tool for general infectious disease preparedness.
Cycles of Panic and Neglect
Preparedness investments tend to increase during and immediately following outbreaks, while funding often decreases shortly afterward, leaving the world unprepared to face the next threat. Economies, population health, and global health security continue to be negatively impacted by these cycles of panic and neglect.
Building and strengthening seasonal influenza programs can help break this cycle by laying a critical foundation for overall readiness. An analysis of the 2009 pandemic found that countries with seasonal influenza vaccination programs were twice as likely to provide necessary documentation to receive donated influenza vaccine and were more likely to receive their shipment of vaccine during the active pandemic period than countries without such programs (1).
New epidemic and pandemic threats – like the coronavirus and Ebola – will continue to emerge, and vaccines have been, and will likely be, a piece of the public health response, making the establishment, testing, and readiness of vaccination programs in advance vital to countries’ capacity to respond and deliver vaccines; and PIVI is building those capacities today to be ready for tomorrow.
Without these systems, vaccines will not be deployed, but there also must first be an effective and safe vaccine developed.
Currently, vaccine experts in academic and industry labs are rapidly working to address the need for a coronavirus vaccine. The Task Force’s Brighton Collaboration is part of this urgent work by bringing together vaccine experts to advance the safety of vaccines through rigorous science.
Funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI), the Brighton Collaboration helps guide vaccine developers on how they can maximize the value of safety data collected in their respective vaccine trials. As a first step, they brought together COVID-19 vaccine developers and other experts for a two-day web-conference to discuss and reach consensus on certain key safety aspects that should be evaluated pre-clinically, in clinical trials and after approval, and the Collaboration will continue to review the safety of the vaccine candidates as they advance through development.
Highlighting the importance of pandemic preparedness, The Task Force has also come together with governments, industry, academia, non-governmental organizations, and philanthropy to form the Alliance for Influenza Preparedness.
This global collaboration of individuals and organizations is committed to improving global health security through greater and more effective use of seasonal influenza vaccination programs in countries worldwide, with a focus on low- and middle- income countries.
As the Alliance secretariat, The Task Force supports the vision of this group to create a world that is better prepared to detect, prevent, and respond to epidemics and pandemics with a focus on influenza.
- Rachael Porter, Shoshanna Goldin, Kathryn La Fond, Lisa Hedman, Mellissa Ungkuldee, Jordan Kurzum, Eduardo Azziz-Baumgartner, Claudia Nannei, Joseph Bresee, Ann Moen. 2020. Does having a seasonal influenza program facilitate pandemic preparedness? An analysis of vaccine deployment during the 2009 pandemic. Vaccine 38. 1152-1159. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31839465