By: Roos, Robert
Testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Chief Scientist Jesse Goodman said he is more optimistic about producing a universal flu vaccine, though it is still about five or 10 years away from becoming a reality. “There’s some exciting progress, but there’s a ways to go,” he said. Flu vaccines must be reformulated every year because they target the head of the virus’ hemagglutinin (HA) protein, which constantly evolves, but a universal flu vaccine would target a part of the virus shared among different strains and protect against them for several years or more. Goodman also noted in a written statement that the FDA recently approved more advanced flu vaccines, such as Novartis’ Flucelvax, which is grown in cell culture instead of chicken eggs, and Protein Sciences Corp.’s Flublok, which is the first U.S. flu vaccine to use recombinant DNA technology; these new vaccines, however, continue to target the HA head. While Goodman insisted the current season’s vaccine is well matched to the circulating flu strains, other health officials who testified indicated that the vaccination rate for this season is just 40 percent and that the vaccine is just 62 percent effective overall.