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The Network that Makes Seasonal Flu Vaccines Possible

Influenza is constantly mutating. 70 years ago, the World Health Organization set up a surveillance network to protect people from its threat.

Illustration of public health researchers investigating flu.

Making influenza vaccines that can help protect against viruses that threaten human health isn’t a simple process. It requires the cooperation between influenza vaccine manufacturers like Seqirus, and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 158 laboratories in 127 countries and 7 collaborating centers that comprise its Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System, or GISRS.    

Around the clock surveillance by these laboratories to discover which flu viruses are likely to become most prevalent in the upcoming season is part of the responsibility of WHO’s GISRS, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.

“Well before the strain selection is announced for a given season, we are interacting with the GISRS to guide the decisions that lead us to getting the right vaccine out in the volumes we need and on time for the season,” said Beverly Taylor, Head of Influenza Scientific Affairs at Seqirus. “These critical discussions take place in virtual bi-weekly meetings called the WHO-Industry Technical Teleconference to provide ongoing updates.”

For example, during such calls, one major topic for discussion is which viruses are circulating, Taylor explained. This tells us which viruses, out of the many wild influenza virus strains, are the most representative and should be the focus of the labs which transform them into High Yielding Reassortants (HYR). These HYR’s are versions of the virus that can be safely developed and used in manufacturing to create millions of doses of vaccines.

The established reassorting labs around the world, Seqirus’ included, interact with one another and with the rest of the GISRS year-round to develop HYR’s, send them for testing by the WHO and report on their quality, suitability and availability. The most representative HYR’s of the original wild viruses are then made freely available for use by vaccine manufactures to protect public health.

This is just a glimpse of the process and how we interact with the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System. To learn more about the GISRS, click here to visit the WHO’s website.