President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order intended to promote the development of better vaccinations to protect against seasonal influenza and potential pandemic flu outbreaks.
The announcement came as public health officials in California announced the upcoming 2019-2020 flu season could be severe. The predictions are based in part on Australia's flu season, which officials use as an indicator for the U.S. flu season. Australia's flu season began earlier this year and has been severe.
California officials have already reported one pediatric death related to the flu. Cameron Kaiser, health officer for Riverside County, California's public health department, said, "A death so early in the flu season suggests this year may be worse than usual."
Executive order details
Trump's executive order aims to better prepare the United States for the flu season and potential flu pandemics. The executive order directs HHS to coordinate the federal government's efforts to modernize the development of flu vaccines.
Currently, flu vaccine manufacturers develop the vaccines by growing strains of the flu virus experts forecast for the upcoming flu season in chicken eggs. However, the vaccine isn't always effective if the vaccine's flu strain does not match the strain appearing during the flu season.
Instead, the executive order directs HHS to focus on recombinant technologies to more quickly produce reliable vaccines and a universal flu vaccine to offer immunity against parts of the flu virus that do not change annually.
The executive order directs the HHS secretary to estimate the cost of expanding U.S. vaccine-manufacturing capacity and evaluate incentives to promote the development and production of vaccines in the private sector and through private-public partnerships.
The executive order also establishes a new task force, called the National Influenza Vaccine Task Force, tasked with identifying methods to modernize the development of highly responsive, flexible, scalable flu vaccines. The task force will explore how the United States can:
- Advance the development of more effective and longer lasting vaccines;
- Expand its capacity to respond to emerging viruses,
- Promote increased flu vaccine immunization; and
- Reduce its reliance on egg-based flu vaccines.
The task force will be co-chaired by the HHS secretary and Department of Defense secretary and include senior officials from:
- The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority;
- Department of Agriculture;
- Department of Defense;
- Department of Homeland Security;
- NIH; and
- Veterans Affairs.
The executive order does not allocate additional funding for research to develop the new flu vaccines, Reuters reports (Beasley, Reuters, 9/19; Masson, Becker's Clinical Leadership & Infection Control, 9/19; Executive order fact sheet, 9/19; Executive order, 9/19).