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Scientists Want to Completely Rethink How They Make the Flu Vaccine

This year’s deadly season has given drugmakers a sense of urgency in the war on the ever-mutating influenza virus.
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Illustration: Baptiste Virot

The only thing worse than getting the flu is catching it after you’ve gotten a flu shot. It’s been a terrible year for outbreaks — the worst in almost a decade. Contributing to that is the high failure rate of this year’s vaccine. The current shot is just 25 percent effective against the H3N2 virus, this season’s most-often-identified strain by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The experts say, with enough time and money, they can do a lot better. 

“There has to be a wholesale change to how we make the flu vaccine,” said Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “We’re always setting ourselves up for vaccine mismatch and failures and the like because of the lead time in how long it takes the vaccines to be made.”