The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are constantly on watch for potential pandemics, and working to prevent outbreaks before they start. Dr. Daniel Jernigan, director of the influenza division at CDC, is nominated for a Samuel J. Heyman Service to America medal for the work he’s done in the field. Jernigan says that creating flu vaccines is a complicated process that requires careful planning, but they’re working on new methods.
“We estimated that around 79,000 deaths last year. Influenza has a significant burden. That’s why [vaccines] are so important. We take 100,000 different specimens, hone those down to 50 viruses that we then are able to select from [to] be in the vaccines,” Jernigan said. “We can actually pick every week what to put into the vaccine. But unfortunately, you have to make a decision 6 months ahead of when the vaccine gets injected into somebody. That’s because the technology we’re using for vaccines right now uses eggs. That’s an older technology. It takes time and it changes the virus a little bit so that it doesn’t look like what it is circulating. There’s a lot we need to do in terms of improving vaccines.”