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Marshfield Clinic flu virus work touches the world

​​Medical Advances at Marshfield Clinic

When Marshfield Clinic Research Institute scientists talk about the effectiveness of flu vaccines, people listen. The Foundation's Epidemiology Research Center has been partnering with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the last nine years and its work is now followed closely around the world.

Jennifer Meece, Ph.D., and Edward Belongia, M.D.

"We have a very stable population of about 50,000 people who can be tested for flu during a visit for respiratory illness," said Edward Belongia, M.D., director of the Marshfield Epidemiologic Research Center. "Most of these people get their health care from Marshfield Clinic, and we have an immunization registry with detailed information about influenza vaccinations."

Dr. Belongia has published many papers on the subject of flu vaccines. His group's findings, from February 2013, showed that the 2012 flu vaccine reduced the risk of a clinic visit for influenza by about two-thirds. The vaccine effectiveness is calculated by comparing the vaccination status of patients with and without the flu.

That's important information, because the Food and Drug Administration needs to decide on the following year's vaccine formulation about eight months before vaccines are given in the fall. It takes that long to generate the vaccine 'seed strains', manufacture and test the vaccine, and distribute it throughout the country.

Marshfield Clinic Research Institute (MCRI) investigators collaborate with four other sites around the U.S. to estimate the vaccine effectiveness each season. The CDC funded project is known as the "U.S. Flu Vaccine Effectiveness (VE) Network." Last February, the World Health Organization's Strain Selection Committee met in Switzerland and used the MCRI results in part to select the new vaccine strain for the northern hemisphere. Dr. Belongia has presented additional MCRI findings at a meeting of influenza vaccine investigators in Europe, and at a recent international conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

Jennifer Meece, Ph.D., director of the Research Foundation's Core Lab, noted that MCRI researchers have been funded by CDC for other studies, including studies of the immune response after vaccination. Meece said they are ready to move fast if last year's deadly virus in China appears again this year.

None of this would be possible without the hard work of about 40 staffers and the hundreds of people enrolled in vaccine studies at MCRI​.

"It really does make a difference," Meece said. "This is a very important project. We receive a million dollars per year for this research, and it all happens right here in Marshfield."