Monday, July 30, 2018

Study Offers Clues for Improving Seasonal Flu Vaccine

The 2017-2018 flu season was rougher than most. During peak flu activity in February, more than 10% of deaths in the U.S. were attributed to the flu or pneumonia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To help combat the flu, NIH-supported researchers are exploring how to improve vaccines. Current influenza vaccines mainly target the influenza surface protein hemagglutinin (HA) but can sometimes offer varying or limited protection.

Recent studies indicate that seasonal flu vaccines might provide better protection if they were optimized to include an additional target, a different flu surface protein called neuraminidase (NA).

The study is supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. This study and related efforts are part of NIH’s larger plan to develop a universal vaccine – one that can durably protect all age groups against multiple strains of the flu.
Remember to get your seasonal flu shot every year to help protect yourself and your loved ones.

My Take:
There are several problems with our current vaccination process. The concepts are over 100 years old and the technology is quite dated as well.

Next year’s vaccine is already in production. Last February, the agencies involved met and decided (guessed?) what strains of the flu will predominate the upcoming flu season. Since then, they have been growing the flu vaccine on chicken embryos for processing. In order to produce enough vaccine, the process must begin almost a full year prior to use.

If they guessed wrong, the flu shot will be less effective. Regardless, genetic drift with make the vaccine less effective. Genetic drift is the term used to describe the genetic mutations that occur as a viral infection moves through a population. But it also occurs in the virus grown in the chicken embryos. The more divergent the vaccine and virus drift, the less effective the vaccine will become. That’s what occurred this past flu season.

In my opinion, oral vaccines offer more promise. First, and foremost, they enter the body through the mouth or nose, the way a virus typically enters the body. This allows the GALT (gut associated lymphoid tissue), the first line of defense in the immune system to react to the vaccine. The GALT analyses the virus and transmits the data gathered to the thymus. The thymus then responds by producing immune cells and then immune proteins (antibodies) to prepare for the oncoming virus. This entire immune response is skipped with shots.

Oral or nasal vaccines have been made available the past few years. The data shows them to be at least as effective, if not more effective as the shots. Initially, flawed research was widely publicized indicating that the nasal wipes and oral vaccines were ineffective.

In addition to being a more natural approach, the ease of use and high patient compliance make oral vaccines a logical choice. The drawback is low cost – oral vaccines do not generate the profit that the shots produce, so Big Pharm has little interest in this approach.

Bottom Line:
I am not a fan of the flu shot, regardless of the form. There are many safety questions that have not been answered.

However, if you are personally at high-risk with an impaired immune system and believe you want some form of protection from the flu, then consider the oral/nasal approach.

Source: NIH Summer 2018

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