Influenza A viruses can infect a wide range of hosts, creating opportunities for zoonotic transmission, i.e., transmission from animals to humans, and placing the human population at constant risk of potential pandemics. In the last hundred years, four influenza A virus pandemics have had a devastating effect, especially the 1918 influenza pandemic that took the lives of at least 40 million people. There is a constant risk that currently circulating avian influenza A viruses (e.g., H5N1, H7N9) will cause a new pandemic. Vaccines are the cornerstone in preparing for and combating potential pandemics. Despite exceptional advances in the design and development of (pre-)pandemic vaccines, there are still serious challenges to overcome, mainly caused by intrinsic characteristics of influenza A viruses: Rapid evolution and a broad host range combined with maintenance in animal reservoirs, making it near impossible to predict the nature and source of the next pandemic virus. Here, recent advances in the development of vaccination strategies to prepare against a pandemic virus coming from the avian reservoir will be discussed. Furthermore, remaining challenges will be addressed, setting the agenda for future research in the development of new vaccination strategies against potentially pandemic influenza A viruses.

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Department of Virology

de Vries, R., Herfst, S., & Richard, M. (2018). Avian influenza A virus pandemic preparedness and vaccine development. Vaccines (Vol. 6). doi:10.3390/vaccines6030046