FDA Agrees to Expand Next Year's Influenza Vaccine

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced plans this week to expand next year's flu vaccine by including three new flu strains, in the hopes of producing a vaccine that is more effective than this year's vaccine. Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on this season's flu activity in the Feb. 15 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

FRIDAY, Feb. 22 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced plans this week to expand next year's flu vaccine by including three new flu strains, in the hopes of producing a vaccine that is more effective than this year's vaccine. Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on this season's flu activity in the Feb. 15 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

This year's vaccine has fallen short of its goal of preventing disease, with health officials reporting that the vaccine does not match two of the three strains of influenza currently circulating in the United States this year. As a result, nearly all states are reporting widespread or regional flu activity. In addition, rates of resistance to the antiviral drug Tamiflu are up, with 8.1 percent of influenza A viruses tested by the CDC showing resistance to Tamiflu, compared to less than 1 percent seen in previous years.

The FDA's move follows recommendations from the World Health Organization for next year's flu vaccine, which includes protection against the H3N2 strain and other strains not covered by this year's vaccine. New vaccines must be reformulated each year due to the constantly changing influenza virus, with experts choosing to include flu strains they predict will cause the most problems.

"Although these are educated guesses, they clearly are guesses," comments Peter C. Welch, M.D., an infectious disease expert at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. "Sometimes they guess right. Sometime they guess wrong. This year, they didn't guess well. Sixteen out of the last 19 years they have guessed pretty well."

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