Global influenza surveillance and virus sharing
The Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS), led by WHO, is used for the international virological and epidemiological surveillance of human influenza. This system has been in place for over fifty years and is vital for maintaining global and local health protection against seasonal, pandemics and zoonotic influenza. It would, for example, be part of the process of the detection of a novel human influenza virus, reassorted or zoonotic viruses as well as detection of antiviral resistance. It is one of the tools which the International Health Regulations would use in an emergency function. Key to the surveillance of viruses are a limited number of high level WHO Collaborating Centres and Reference Laboratories involved in annual influenza vaccine composition recommendations and many more national influenza laboratories (National Influenza Centres). In Europe, the Collaborating Centre and the Regulatory Laboratory - the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control are in the UK. The European Medicines Agency also provides an important regulatory role in preparing for the production of influenza vaccines.
In the European Region, surveillance of seasonal influenza is performed jointly by ECDC and the WHO Regional Office for Europe. Data are reported from 53 countries in the Region on a weekly basis to The European Surveillance System (TESSy), which are then analysed and published in the weekly joint bulletin FluNewsEurope.
In addition, ECDC publishes early season risk assessments, rapid risk assessments about emerging threats, issues the weekly communicable disease threat report and the commissioned influenza virus characterisation summaries as well as the quarterly joint ECDC, EFSA, EURL avian influenza situation reports for the European Union and its Member States.
Functions and benefits
This surveillance system supports multiple functions key to health security and risk assessment and the annual cycle of vaccine productions. These include the following surveillance objectives:
- surveillance for the seasonal human influenza A and B viruses including antigenic and genetic characterisation of circulating strains;
- assessment of the circulating viruses related to affected age and risk groups, dominance, impact, severity and other relevant objectives;
- surveillance for reassortant, novel emerging human and zoonotic influenza viruses;
- developing and improving diagnostic tests for influenza;
- supporting vaccine effectiveness studies;
- support decisions on the composition of seasonal human influenza vaccines;
- support manufacturers for vaccine production.
There are essential links with industrial companies, both commercial and state-owned that produce and distribute influenza vaccines. In Europe, these are organised under the Vaccines Europe.
Timely sharing of pathogens, their genetic sequence data and relevant metadata is of paramount importance in the early identification, timely risk assessment, evidence-based interventions and the subsequent development and deployment of diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics. Virus sharing agreements have been covered under the Nagoya Protocol and WHO’s Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework.
The Nagoya Protocol is a treaty that supplements the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It entered into force on 12 October 2014 and covers issues of access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilisation. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force on 25 May 2018, introducing new laws governing the processing of personal data, which includes personal health data.