The flu vaccine business is booming, even when it is down. Each year, flu vaccine makers push the shot on the coattails of provided statistics showing it isn’t successful. But each year, their brilliant marketing pushing a failed product still gets mass disseminated. One stronghold the flu vaccine makers also have is legislation (forcing it in public schools and on healthcare workers) as well as creating environments of intimidation in corporate America.
But recent buzz has had flu vaccine makers touting a new “universal flu vaccine.” Isn’t every year supposed to be a “universal flu vaccine?” In this case, it is a little different, but a study is showing that the promise of this product is unlikely to come to fruition. The key with this vaccine, according to those pushing for it, is that it will need to trigger antibodies to have this all encompassing effect. The thing is, however, according to a new study, that’s not happening.
A universal flu vaccine has been a Sisyphean trial—despite successful seasonal vaccines, the immune system has to start over with newly mutated influenza strains. Now, Andrewset al. look in depth at the B cell response to the pandemic 2009 H1N1 vaccine over time. They found that people with low titers of preexisting antibodies were more likely to generate a broadly reactive response that targets the more conserved hemagglutinin (HA) stalk region, whereas those with higher levels of preexisting antibodies responded by targeting the more variable HA head. The preexisting head antibodies were immunodominant and prevented clear access to the stalk. These data suggest that exposure history is critical in designing a universal flu vaccine.
This study essentially says that the current method for flu vaccine works (something we don’t agree with) but the study also assumes the position that a flu vaccine which doesn’t expose the body to various flu strains would be an even worse failure. This makes the universal flu vaccine a failure before it even begins. With all of Big Pharmaceutical’s stockpiles of bribery cash, it is hard to imagine how bad this universal flu vaccine tested in order to get an actual study to call it what it is: ridiculous.
This doesn’t imply that the vaccine makers working on this new “solution” will ceases continued aspirations over the matter, but it does suggest they will need to repackage the product in some way that passes a study even as just “kind of” effective. Many are pushing this universal solution as a “holy grail” of flu vaccines, but even those people are now realizing that this is going to be a struggle.
“I think they’re showing us that the path forward has to be really thoughtfully considered,” Paul Thomas, an immunology expert at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., said of the paper, which was published in this week’s issue of Science Translational Medicine. (source)
A universal flu vaccine product could create a massive new revenue stream for pharmaceutical companies. It is difficult to imagine that they aren’t right back at the drawing board as of this morning.