This year is gearing up to be a terrible flu season. Already, California has seen 27 flu deaths and other states and countries are experiencing similar death rates. Although many Americans get the flu vaccine every year, the vaccine is not a panacea—this year, its effectiveness is estimated at 30%. (At least some experts believe the vaccine was only 10% effective against the same strain of flu that hit Australia during its 2017 winter, America’s summer.)
Flu season happens every year. Although most healthy people can get the flu without serious risk, hundreds of thousands die every year from flu or flu-related complications. Despite the predictable death toll, little work has been done in decades to improve the flu vaccine (or improve access to the vaccine for those in less-developed nations). Most flu vaccines are currently manufactured using an egg-based production, which experts considered to be an outmoded technology. In addition, vaccine makers usually test the vaccine on ferrets, which are obviously not a perfect match for humans.
A big reason drug companies and other vaccine makers haven’t figured out a way to bring the flu vaccine up to date is that it is a very cheap procedure. Companies have thus far been hesitant to invest more in flu research. Because most biomedical innovation is sponsored by companies who expect to see a return on their investment at the end of the process, the flu vaccine has failed to become a priority for any company. Then again, it is not just companies that have yet to take the flu seriously. Governments also have failed to invest any significant amount in flu vaccine research—either for the seasonal flu we suffer yearly or the scary flu pandemics that occur occasionally.
What do you think? Could drug companies do more to prevent serious flu outbreaks?
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