Tag: universal flu vaccine

Is H1N1 Flu Back This Year?

You remember H1N1 flu, right?

Is it back this year?

Is H1N1 Flu Back This Year?

While H1N1 seems to be the most frequently identified influenza virus type this year, in reality, since causing the “swine flu” pandemic in 2009, this strain of flu virus never really went away.

It instead became a seasonal flu virus strains.

So it is back again this year, but just like it was back during the 2013-14 and 2015-16 flu seasons.

Is that good news or bad news?

In general, it’s good news, as “flu vaccines provide better protection against influenza B or influenza A (H1N1) viruses than against influenza A (H3N2) viruses.”

“The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus (referred to as “swine flu” early on) was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009. This virus was originally referred to as “swine flu” because laboratory testing showed that its gene segments were similar to influenza viruses that were most recently identified in and known to circulate among pigs. CDC believes that this virus resulted from reassortment, a process through which two or more influenza viruses can swap genetic information by infecting a single human or animal host. When reassortment does occur, the virus that emerges will have some gene segments from each of the infecting parent viruses and may have different characteristics than either of the parental viruses, just as children may exhibit unique characteristics that are like both of their parents. In this case, the reassortment appears most likely to have occurred between influenza viruses circulating in North American pig herds and among Eurasian pig herds. Reassortment of influenza viruses can result in abrupt, major changes in influenza viruses, also known as “antigenic shift.” When shift happens, most people have little or no protection against the new influenza virus that results.”

Origin of 2009 H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu): Questions and Answers

The only reason we were so concerned about this strain of H1N1 in 2009 was because it was new.

Still, even in a good year, it is important to remember that a lot of people die with the flu, including a lot of kids. And most of them are unvaccinated.

So while it might be interesting to talk about which flu virus strain is going around, just remember that your best protection against that strain is a yearly flu vaccine.

More on H1N1 Flu

Flu Season Predictions

No, I can’t see into the future…

I predict that I will continue to get a flu shot each year, at least until they come out with a universal flu vaccine.
I predict that I will continue to get a flu shot each year, at least until they come out with a universal flu vaccine.

But some things are very easy to predict.

Flu Season Predictions

Here are some predictions for this year’s flu season.

  1. We will have a flu season epidemic in the United States this year. Surprised by that prediction? Don’t be. Flu activity reaches epidemic levels each and every year. What we don’t always have are flu pandemics, during which flu activity is very high in multiple parts of the world. By definition, flu season is an epidemic.
  2. Almost all states will eventually report having widespread influenza activity as flu season peaks. Again, this is not a bold prediction. It happens every year. How severe is flu season going to be? No one can really predict that, but we can look at the proportion of people seeing their health care provider for influenza-like illness (ILI) and laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalization rates as flu season moves along to get some idea. Remember, measures of the geographic spread of the flu don’t really tell you anything about the severity of flu activity.
  3. Dozens of kids will die with the flu – most of them unvaccinated. Remember, 37 kids died in the mildest flu season we had.
  4. A little under half of adults will get a flu vaccine, even though the current recommendation is that everyone who is at least six months old without a true contraindication get vaccinated each year.
  5. A little over half of parents will get their kids a flu vaccine.
  6. Some people who get a flu vaccine will still get the flu. You know the flu vaccine isn’t the most effective, but it still has plenty of other benefits, so even if you did still get the flu, hopefully you got a milder case, weren’t hospitalized, and didn’t die.
  7. Some people who get a flu vaccine and get the flu will blame their flu shot, even though it is well known that the flu shot can’t give you the flu.
  8. Many people who aren’t high risk will be prescribed Tamiflu. Or Xofluza, because it is new.
  9. Tens of thousands of adults will die with the flu. Even in a mild flu season, the flu is very deadly.
  10. Some folks will continue to push the idea that there is a vaginal spermicide in flu shots, even though that anti-vaccine talking point has been refuted a thousand times already.

What else can you predict about flu season?

Some folks will think it is too late to get a flu shot.

It isn’t.

Get your flu shot if you haven’t and get protected for the rest of flu season.

Another bold prediction? Elderberry syrup and Oscillococcinum are not going to help prevent or treat your flu symptoms.

More Flu Season Predictions

Are You Ready for DNA Vaccines?

Believe it or not, vaccines aren’t a one-size-fits-all kind of a thing.

“There are several different types of vaccines. Each type is designed to teach your immune system how to fight off certain kinds of germs — and the serious diseases they cause.”

Vaccine Types

In addition to live vaccines, like MMR, there are inactivated vaccines, toxoid vaccines, and subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines.

Are You Ready for DNA Vaccines?

Vaccines made with current technology have helped save millions of lives.

It’s time for some new approaches though, especially as we are seeing the limitations of some of our current vaccines, especially the seasonal flu vaccine.

“DNA vaccines take immunization to a new technological level. These vaccines dispense with both the whole organism and its parts and get right down to the essentials: the microbe’s genetic material. In particular, DNA vaccines use the genes that code for those all-important antigens.”

NIH on Vaccine Types

While a DNA vaccine might sound like something out of the 23rd century, researchers have been studying them since the 1990s.

“Researchers have found that when the genes for a microbe’s antigens are introduced into the body, some cells will take up that DNA. The DNA then instructs those cells to make the antigen molecules. The cells secrete the antigens and display them on their surfaces. In other words, the body’s own cells become vaccine-making factories, creating the antigens necessary to stimulate the immune system.”

NIH on Vaccine Types

Does the idea of being injected with the genes for a microbe’s antigens scare you?

“The original concerns associated with the DNA platform were the potential for genomic integration and development of anti-DNA immune responses. Exhaustive research has found little evidence of integration, and the risk for integration appears to be significantly lower than that associated with naturally occurring mutations”

Ferraro et al on Clinical Applications of DNA Vaccines: Current Progress

What do you think happens when you get the flu?

The flu virus and it’s DNA is taken up by your cells, and those cells then start making more flu proteins.

“This approach offers a number of potential advantages over traditional approaches, including the stimulation of both B- and T-cell responses, improved vaccine stability, the absence of any infectious agent and the relative ease of large-scale manufacture.”

WHO on DNA Vaccines

So where are all of the DNA vaccines?

“However, the results of these early clinical trials were disappointing. The DNA vaccines were safe and well tolerated, but they proved to be poorly immunogenic. The induced antibody titers were very low or nonexistent, CD8+ T-cell responses were sporadic, and CD4+ T-cell responses were of low frequency. However, these studies provided proof of concept that DNA vaccines could safely induce immune responses (albeit low-level responses) in humans.”

Ferraro et al on Clinical Applications of DNA Vaccines: Current Progress

After getting disappointing results in the 1990s, researchers have since moved on to second-generation DNA vaccines, which are being tested for HIV treatment and prevention, Zika, Dengue fever, influenza (DNA vaccine prime), HPV, cancer treatment (metastatic breast, B cell lymphoma, melanoma, prostate, colorectal), chronic hepatitis B treatment, chronic hepatitis C treatment, herpes, and malaria.

There are many completed trials for DNA vaccines.
There are already many completed trials for DNA vaccines.

While many of these DNA vaccines are now in phase I and II trials, unfortunately, that means we are still a long time away from having a DNA vaccine on the immunization schedule.

More on DNA Vaccines

The Strategic Plan to Develop a Universal Influenza Vaccine

Even before you get to talk about problems with flu vaccine effectiveness,  it becomes clear that everyone wants a better flu vaccine.

One big problem with the current generation of flu vaccines?

You have to get them each and every year.

Developing a Better Flu Vaccine

So what would we all want in a new and better flu vaccine?

It would:

  • last longer, so you didn’t have to get a new vaccine every year
  • be more effective
  • cover more flu vaccine strains, so it wasn’t a “guess” about which flu strains to include in the flu vaccine each year and we didn’t have to worry about drifted flu vaccine strains or new and emerging strains for which there is no vaccine

A universal flu vaccine, which covers all possible flu strains, would be ideal.

So why haven’t we been working on developing a universal flu vaccine?

Well, we have.

It just isn’t that easy.

Many different research teams have been working on a universal flu vaccine for years and some have already had some success.

Does that mean we will see a universal flu vaccine soon?

Unfortunately, of the almost 40 organizations working on improved flu vaccines, including a universal flu vaccine, about 30 are still in preclinical or phase 1 trials. So the answer is no, we will not see a universal flu vaccine soon.

The Strategic Plan to Develop a Universal Influenza Vaccine

Maybe that will change now that more and more folks are pushing for a better flu vaccine and we see the effects of severe flu seasons without a good vaccine.

Of course, talk isn’t enough.

“A priority for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is development of an influenza vaccine providing durable protection against multiple influenza strains, including those that may cause a pandemic, i.e., a universal influenza vaccine. To invigorate research efforts, NIAID developed a strategic plan focused on knowledge gaps in three major research areas, as well as additional resources required to ensure progress towards a universal influenza vaccine. NIAID will use this plan as a foundation for future investments in influenza research and will support and coordinate a consortium of multidisciplinary scientists focused on accelerating progress towards this goal.”

Erbelding et al on A Universal Influenza Vaccine: The Strategic Plan for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

That’s why it is also encouraging that we have seen the:

  • The Flu Vaccine Act would help fund a universal flu vaccine.the Pathway to a Universal Influenza Vaccine workshop convened by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in 2017
  • the Strategic Plan for Developing a Universal Influenza Vaccine by the NIAID that was announced in 2018
  • U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced the Flu Vaccine Act, which would invest $1 billion towards development of a universal flu vaccine

Knowing that developing a universal flu vaccine is a priority of the NIAID and that so many organizations are already working towards this goal is very reassuring.

Hopefully we are a lot closer than some folks thing.

Until then, a seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to avoid the flu and serious flu complications.

What to Know About Developing a Universal Influenza Vaccine

Developing a better flu vaccine, including a universal flu vaccine, is an even bigger priority with the announcement of the Strategic Plan for Developing a Universal Influenza Vaccine.

More on Developing a Universal Influenza Vaccine