Last spring scant attention was paid publicly to plans for the 2003 flu vaccine. Then last fall the flu season started earlier than usual with some communities particularly hard hit. Demands for the flu vaccine suddenly increased. Vaccine was in very short supply. To top it off, many people became ill with a dangerous strain of the flu (Fujian influenza A) that had not been included in the vaccine.
Now it is spring again and time to decide which strains will be included in this year's vaccine. Towards this end, the FDA will hold a public meeting on March 17 to discuss the formulation of the influenza virus vaccine for this year. WHO has recommended retaining the New Caledonia influenza A strain, adding the Fujian strain (in place of Moscow A), and the Shanghai B strain (in place of the Hong Kong B).
Comment: Designing a new flu vaccine is unfortunately always a gamble. Let's hope the experts play the odds right this time around.
Barbara K. Hecht,
Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editors, MedicineNet.com