"As we prepare for a potentially severe influenza season, we must consider whether our current vaccines can be improved," Fauci and his coauthors wrote.
The high prevalence of influenza A viruses in recent years is a particular problem for the current generation of vaccines, Fauci and his colleagues wrote. A pair of studies published this year have turned up strong evidence that when vaccine makers use eggs as a medium for the propagation of viruses -- the dominant production method, and one that has changed little in decades -- mutations are introduced that reduce the vaccine's effectiveness.
In Australia this past flu season, the problem did not appear to be a mismatch between the flu strains that were circulating and those that the available vaccine protected against, Fauci said. Instead, it seemed to be the mutant proteins introduced as the vaccines were being produced in eggs.
"The very process of how we make the vaccine creates an unanticipated, almost accidental mismatch, which is what happened in Australia this year," Fauci said in an interview.
The production of universal vaccines entails no such risk. The viral pieces used in these vaccines are not living organisms but genetically engineered proteins that can be grown and propagated in bacteria, making the use of eggs unnecessary.
The most advanced universal flu vaccine candidate is only in the earliest stages of human clinical trials, and others are still being tested in animals. They could be several flu seasons off, but Fauci said he has "made this a high priority" in a budget that the Trump administration has targeted for 21 percent budget cut.
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