The National Academy of Medicine has stated, in a series of reports, that a flu pandemic comparable to the one from 1918 could take place soon and that it would be even worse than the current COVID-19 pandemic!
The reports also recommended that the development of next-generation vaccines should start as soon as possible.
Furthermore, low and middle income countries should build up capacity to make their own so they don’t have to rely on wealthier countries to make vaccines available for them.
But, most importantly, governments all over the world need to think of ways to incentivize companies to create these vaccines without knowing for certain if they will ever be needed at all since an influenza pandemic is at the level of an educated guess at this point.
The Academy admits that COVID-19 has been terrible but, according to them, it’s not as bad as it can be.
“From an epidemiological perspective, COVID-19 doesn’t represent a ‘worst case’ pandemic scenario, such as the 1918-1919 influenza, which resulted in at least 50 million of deaths worldwide,” one report reads.
According to WHO, the flu kills between 290,000 and 650,000 people per year, normally.
As for COVID-19, the virus has managed to kill a total of 5.1 million human beings all over the globe.
The Academy stresses that an influenza pandemic could take as many as 33 million lives, however!
While it is hard to know exactly when the next flu pandemic will happen, they warn that it’s definitely coming so it’s not a matter of “if” but of “when.”
“Influenza pandemics have actually occurred repeatedly, and experts worry the risk of an influenza pandemic may be higher during the COVID-19 era due to changes in global as well as regional conditions affecting humans, animals, and also their contact patterns. While it’s difficult to predict when it will occur, a major influenza pandemic is more a matter of ‘when’ than ‘if,'” the report goes on to say.
As for ways to keep it under control, the main recommendation is a global “moonshot” to try and create a universal flu vaccine that could not only protect people from the current flu virus but also any future strains of it.
The currently available vaccines need to get reformulated quite regularly and they are not enough to protect people from any emerging pandemic-causing strains.
“We have way too many gaps, and too much is dependent on underfunded, frequently informal arrangements. Against the scale of the threat, we’re woefully underprotected. We need to strengthen our collective defenses against pandemic influenza urgently and must do so in a way that’s sustainable,” one report says.
They also recommend having between 4 and 8 billion doses of flu vaccine on the ready, just in case!
President of National Academy of Medicine, Dr. Victor Dzau, stated that “Preparedness has to be an ongoing commitment — it cannot be year to year, or crisis to crisis. COVID-19 has enabled the emergence of new capabilities, collaboration, technologies, and policies that could be deployed before and during the next influenza pandemic as well. It is critical to invest in science, to strengthen health systems, and to ensure trust in orders to protect people from the health, the social, and the economic consequences of seasonal and pandemic influenza.”
One of the reports stresses that the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Department of Defense as well as other agencies should invest in research to create better flu vaccines.
“This will allow the selection of candidates most fit for the purpose to be brought to authorization, sufficient production and distribution to optimize the control of influenza across different settings and phases of pandemics and epidemics. The World Health Organization should coordinate with multilateral stakeholders, governments, funding agencies, the vaccine industry, and many philanthropic organizations to build global capacity for a robust and internationally comparable clinical, and immunological assessments of flu vaccine candidates, including novel candidates that use innovative structures, targets, and also delivery systems to broaden or improve protection.”
In one of the reports, they noted that the use of face masks as well as social distancing during the COVID pandemic has helped a lot with reducing the number of flu infections all over the world.
With that being said, “Face masks would be simple and cost effective during the next influenza pandemic, and all public health agencies should mandate their use, when justified by the severity and incidence of influenza.”