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Flu Shot Unable to Combat Virus Strain

The above headline is from a December 15th 2003 Associated Press story that appeared in newspapers across the country. The story reports that the strain of virus that is currently running around the US is not the same one the flu vaccine was created for. There are many who dispute the reasoning behind using vaccinations for the flu or other diseases in the first place. However, these concerns are from those who actually created the flu vaccine itself.

The story notes that the flu virus mutates constantly. Each year the virus that causes flu is different than the year before. The Food and Drug Administration, with the help of its expert committee, must decide in late winter what varieties will be the biggest threats in the upcoming year. The story admits that picking the best combination is a mixture of science, luck and seat-of-the-pants instinct. Dr. Michael Decker, head of scientific affairs at Aventis, one of the three U.S. vaccine makers describes the creation of flu vaccines by saying: "By the time you know what's the right strain, you can't do anything about it." Dr. Theodore Eickhoff of the University of Colorado added, "For the first time in many years of participating in these deliberations, I must add I am very uncomfortable with the recommendation."

Barbara Loe Fisher, president, National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), stated: "Public health officials knew last spring that it was highly likely that the A/Panama strain in the current vaccine was not going to protect against the mutated, more dangerous A/Fujian strain of flu. If there is solid new evidence that the vaccine is protective against Fujian, then it should be released. If there is no such evidence, then it is not right to lead people to believe that if they get vaccinated now, they will be protected against it." Fisher, who was the consumer voting member of the FDA Advisory Committee, abstained from the strain selection vote on March 18, saying "I feel uncomfortable voting for inclusion of an A/Panama-like virus, when what may really be needed is an A/Fujian-like virus. So I am going to abstain and urge that the public be informed that next year's flu vaccine may not be protective against an emerging strain."