Can the president stop the flu?

Well, no, the president can’t stop the shivers and fevers of the flu.

But presidential support for particular policies likely means that fewer people will get the flu.

Reuters reports:

As early as next year, more modern and more effective vaccines will hit the market, thanks to investments by the U.S. government and pharmaceutical companies. And even bigger scientific advances are expected in the next decade, including a “universal” flu vaccine given every five to 10 years that would fight many strains of a virus, making annual shots all but obsolete. . .

Current flu vaccines are mostly grown in fertilized chicken eggs using a 60-year-old method that requires hundreds of millions of eggs. The technique can take up to six months and is an arduous process, prone to manufacturing problems.

First, experts at the World Health Organization and the FDA have to predict which flu strains will be causing most of the illness in the coming season. Then, they make seed strains of the flu from people who are infected, which must then be manipulated into a form that will grow in live chicken eggs.

At every step there is risk for contamination. In some years certain flu strains have refused to grow readily in eggs, and the end product only protects 50 to 70 percent of people who get it. The vaccine for the current flu season is estimated to have a 62 percent effectiveness rate.

With newer methods, companies can skip the egg portion of the process altogether.

Once again, our political choices matter. Deciding to invest public monies makes a difference for our health.

Just think about what these breakthroughs could mean.

This year is a nasty flu season that’s hitting people hard.

In modern times, nothing compares with the 1918 influenza epidemic, which killed more people than World War I – 50 million versus 16 million.

I know several people whose lives were shaped by that flu, elderly people who lost a parent, one who grew up in an orphanage after his mother died.

Since the development of vaccines, there is far less flu. And the access to quality health care, including for older people on Medicare, flu is less likely to kill.

While some think government money should not go to pharmaceutical companies, this public-private partnership matters.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.