Influenza Virus: Dealing with a Drifting and Shifting Pathogen

Viral Immunol. 2018 Mar;31(2):174-183. doi: 10.1089/vim.2017.0141. Epub 2018 Jan 26.


Numerous modern technological and scientific advances have changed the vaccine industry. However, nearly 70 years of influenza vaccine usage have passed without substantial changes in the underlying principles of the vaccine. The challenge of vaccinating against influenza lies in the constantly changing nature of the virus itself. Influenza viruses undergo antigenic evolution through antigenic drift and shift in their surface glycoproteins. This has forced frequent updates of vaccine antigens to ensure that the somewhat narrowly focused vaccine-induced immune responses defend against circulating strains. Few vaccine production systems have been developed that can entertain such constant changes. Although influenza virus infection induces long-lived immunologic memory to the same or similar strains, most people do not encounter the same strain repeatedly in their lifespan, suggesting that enhancement of natural immunity is required to improve influenza vaccines. It is clear that transformative change of influenza vaccines requires a rethink of how we immunize. In this study, we review the problems associated with the changing nature of the virus, and highlight some of the approaches being employed to improve influenza vaccines.

Keywords: antigenic drift; antigenic shift; influenza virus; vaccine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigenic Variation
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Drift*
  • Humans
  • Influenza Vaccines / administration & dosage
  • Influenza Vaccines / immunology*
  • Influenza Vaccines / isolation & purification
  • Influenza, Human / epidemiology*
  • Influenza, Human / prevention & control*
  • Influenza, Human / virology
  • Orthomyxoviridae / genetics*
  • Orthomyxoviridae / immunology*
  • Technology, Pharmaceutical / methods


  • Influenza Vaccines