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Insights: What More Can Be Done to Prevent Pandemics?

November 01, 2016 00:00 AM UTC
- Updated May 05, 2020 16:20 PM UTC

Doctors says more needs to be done globally to prevent pandemics and influenza.

BRYAN WALSH: So many of these viruses do emerge from animals jump to human beings. Can we do anything about actually detecting those diseases in the animals before they actually make that crossover, that's spillover? DR. MICHAEL T. OSTERHOLM: We could do a lot more than we're doing right now. I gave my first lecture on Zika 39 months ago. I have, number one, said it was coming to Americas. I said that it was likely to cause great havoc. At that time, we didn't even understand the issue microcephaly and I had no special knowledge, except we connected a few dots. We have a list, and in fact, this group that Moncef and I are involved with now, simply, we've actually come up with the diseases. The one I wish we had included which we have is the flu vaccine. We surely need a new much better flu vaccine. New flu pandemics are like earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis. They're going to occur, and so we need that. But we could do much more. And this is what the group we're working with right now is trying to anticipate. But no, there's no market. Nobody would have paid to make a Zika vaccine or buy a Zika vaccine five years ago. But that's too late to wait. We need to anticipate these as we can and that's where the business community, along with government, needs to come together and say, as the old oil frame or commercial used to say many years ago, pay me now or you will pay me later. And I think that's what we're trying to help the world understand. That that's the option we're offering them, is to take many of these off the table. BRYAN WALSH: We have one last question, actually, which is about the flu and the flu vaccine. Flu is always with us and we always worry about when it's going to make that jump to a 1918 kind of situation. And yet, Americans really don't really take the flu vaccine, and it's not been that effective in recent years. What can we do to change that? I mean, right now, the flu obviously change, it evolves. But is there a technology, is there a way to find one, the key that will fit all locks when it comes to this particular virus, this devil to human beings? DR. BRUCE GELLIN: Well, I think it has to start with the way we do surveillance we're always chasing what happened last year to decide what to make next year. I don't think-- we should better understand viral evolution to see where the virus might be going rather than where it's been, and better predict that. There's also the opportunity to look at different parts of the virus that are not as variable year to year and to try to develop immunity to that. Essentially, as actually Dr. Fauci has described, that you're trying to create unnatural immunity. Natural flu doesn't give you lifelong protection or protection against all of them so we have to look to some of those as well. There are a number of technologies available as well. We've been working on flu vaccines in eggs since it was first recovered in egg in 1930. BRYAN WALSH: We're still making as much the same way, yeah? DR. BRUCE GELLIN: We are still making much the same way. We're doing some different things now, but essentially, they're pretty similar. We need to look at different parts of the virus to create a different kind of immunity. DR. MICHAEL T. OSTERHOLM: If I could just add a context to that, right now, we spend between $30 to $50 million a year globally researching new better flu vaccines, and we clearly have evidence that we may very well be able to make a much better flu vaccine. Meanwhile, we spend a billion dollars a year on research in HIV vaccines, which I wouldn't take dollar away from, but we just haven't put the importance on that issue. And just think about this, six months of even a moderate flu pandemic will kill more people than HIV has killed since its earliest days. Sometimes what scares us versus what concerns us versus what hurts us versus what kills us, we get them all mixed up. And what this group we're talking about, what we're working with, is actually trying to correct that. We're trying to lay out what are the diseases of greatest impact.