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WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza (VIDRL)
Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity
792 Elizabeth Street
Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia

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We acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional custodians of the land where our Centre is located.

WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS)
Surveillance and Vaccine Development

The WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) monitors which influenza viruses are circulating in humans around the world throughout the year. GISRS comprises:

  •   5 WHO Collaborating Centres (Atlanta, Beijing, London, Melbourne, Tokyo)
  •   142 National Influenza Centres in 115 countries
  •   12 H5 Reference Laboratories
  •   4 Essential Regulatory Laboratories

The major technical roles of GISRS are to:

  •  Monitor human influenza disease burden
  •  Monitor antigenic drift and other changes (such as antiviral drug resistance) in seasonal influenza viruses
  •  Obtain suitable virus isolates for updating of influenza vaccines
  •  Detect and obtain isolates of new influenza viruses infecting humans, especially those with pandemic potential

Influenza specimens and isolates obtained at WHO National Influenza Centres and Reference Laboratories are forwarded to a WHO Collaborating Centre, where they are analysed for antigenic (immune response), genetic and anti-viral drug sensitivity properties. Surveillance data about the circulating viruses are continually collected throughout the year and provide information about the predominant influenza viruses currently spreading and circulating in different parts of the world.

The data posted by WHO National Influenza Centres is available on the WHO FLUnet website.

Antigenic analysis: Haemagglutination inhibition (HI) assays measure the antigenic relationship between a test virus (Virus X) and a known reference virus (Virus A). Ferret antiserum raised against Virus A is tested for its ability to inhibit agglutination of red blood cells by Virus X, showing whether the haemagglutinin of the test virus has similar antibody-binding specificity to the reference virus, or is potentially a new strain. More detailed information about HI Assays can be found in the HI Typing Kit Information Pamphlet.

Genetic analysis: Representative and antigenically unusual influenza strains are selected for full sequencing of their haemagglutinin and neuraminidase genes. New sequences are phylogenetically classified relative to known sequences, enabling genetic changes and evolution of circulating influenza strains to be tracked. Sequences are submitted to GISAID, an international database for sharing and collaborative use of influenza data.

Anti-viral drug sensitivity: Circulating viruses are tested for their sensitivity to influenza drugs that are both currently in use and in late-stage development. This monitoring enables WHO GISRS to identify the emergence of drug-resistant influenza viruses that could present future treatment challenges.

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WHO Collaborating Centres work together with vaccine manufacturers to ensure the suitability of candidate strains for inclusion in seasonal vaccines. In accordance with regulatory requirements, WHO Collaborating Centres undertake primary isolation of selected viruses from clinical samples directly into eggs. Candidate vaccine viruses that are successfully isolated in eggs, post-infection ferret antisera raised against these viruses and other reference viruses are exchanged between WHO Collaborating Centres to enable direct comparison of strains isolated in the five centres.

Selected egg-isolated candidate vaccine strains are made available to the three laboratories that undertake virus reassortment for WHO — bioCSL (Australia), the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC, UK) and New York Medical College (NYMC, USA) — where they are reassorted with established egg-adapted strains to produce potential vaccine seed strains. The reassortant vaccine seed viruses are returned to the WHO Collaborating Centres, where they are analysed by HI assay and genetic sequencing to ensure that key antigenic and genetic properties of the vaccine virus have been retained.

Twice a year a WHO committee meets to consider the surveillance data on recently circulating viruses and candidate vaccine viruses, and recommend suitable strains to be included in the next seasonal influenza vaccines.

February: vaccines for the following Northern Hemisphere winter (November-April)
September: vaccines for the following Southern Hemisphere winter (March-October)

These recommendations are made 5-6 months ahead of vaccine release to allow time for production.

In each individual country, national authorities make the final decision on vaccine composition, usually in consideration of the WHO recommendation. In Australia, this decision is undertaken by the Australian Influenza Vaccine Committee (AIVC) at the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System
WHO Recommendations for Seasonal Vaccines
CDC Information on Vaccine Selection

Information for laboratories with influenza samples to send to a WHO Collaborating Centre is available here.

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The WHO Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework aims to improve the global preparedness in the event of an influenza pandemic through:

  • improving and enhancing the sharing of influenza viruses with human pandemic potential with GISRS as they are identified; and
  • ensuring equitable access to vaccines and other pandemic-related supplies throughout the world.

The PIP Framework was developed over the course of 4 years from 2007 and became effective in May 2011. Under the PIP Framework, countries share influenza viruses with pandemic potential with GISRS in a timely manner for analysis and development of candidate vaccine viruses.

Under the PIP Benefits Sharing System, manufacturers of influenza vaccines, diagnostics and pharmaceuticals that use GISRS make an annual monetary contribution (Partnership Contributions) to WHO. These contributions are used by WHO to fund capacity building projects in developing countries that require more support in influenza prevention and surveillance. Examples of such support may be training activities to strengthen laboratory surveillance capabilities, or strengthening systems to improve access to vaccines and medicines within those countries should a pandemic occur. In 2014, $15,048,215 was collected and a total of 26 countries received funds and technical support from Partnership Contributions.

The Centre participates in the PIP Framework through the receipt and analysis of potential pandemic viruses, as well as sharing of these viruses, data and expertise through approriate systems established through the Framework. The Centre also maintains its PC3 laboratories and regulatory approvals and ensures appropriate acknowledgement and research engagement of laboratories which originally provide the potential pandemic viruses.

WHO Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework

WHO video about the PIP Framework and Partnership Contributions:

Watch video on external site

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