Aiming to combat the constantly changing forms of the influenza virus, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today announced the formula for next year’s southern hemisphere flu vaccine.
“Influenza vaccines are lifesavers and we must see they reach those at greatest risk,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland following an expert meeting convened by the agency in Geneva to set the composition of the immunization dose. “We want to see a big reduction in the unacceptably high levels of illness and deaths caused by annual influenza epidemics.”
WHO warned that far from being just an inconvenience, flu can be a deadly disease. During a recent outbreak in Madagascar, of the more than 22,000 people who were infected, 671 died. Most of the victims were children who lacked of access to medical care and had poor nutrition.
The problem, while more acute in the developing world, is not confined to poor countries. According to WHO, influenza killed an estimated 20,000 people in the United States last year.
The agency recommends that governments begin vaccination campaigns prior to the influenza season and ensure that as many vulnerable people as possible are covered before the first cases appear.
Each year WHO brings together international influenza experts to decide the composition of the vaccine for the next year. More than 250 million vaccine doses are then produced and administered globally every year, saving hundreds of thousands of lives and reducing illness.