With fall and winter just around the corner, the annual flu season will soon be upon us as well. Up to 20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu every year, so it is very important to take proper steps in order to avoid it. Unfortunately, yearly flu vaccinations are not always effective for everyone. Studies show that current flu vaccines are less effective, or even counter-productive, for babies under the age of two and adults over the age of 49; as a result, the flu vaccine has not been approved for either of these two groups of people. Luckily, a new nasal spray flu vaccine method may be able to correct this shortcoming.
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health created the new method after studying and creating varying versions of the flu virus. By controlling how strong each virus is, the researchers concluded that they can weaken or strengthen it depending on the needs of those who take it.
“We think we can use our molecular, rational design approaches to make a better flu vaccine for people who really need it,” said Andrew Pekosz, an associate professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and leader of the study.
One of the advantages that the study has is that the viruses can be controlled according to the specifications of the researchers. “We can do it in a sophisticated and accurate way, not in a blind manner, which is how these vaccines are usually developed,” said Pekosz.
Treating infants and the elderly
This new method may be particularly helpful to people over the age of 60 and children under the age of two. Older people, in particular, are more likely to get the flu and can often suffer medical complications because of it. Since they have been exposed to so many different flu viruses over the course of their lives, they often need a more potent vaccine in order to provoke an immune response.
On the other hand, children under the age of two have not been exposed to the flu very much, and need a weaker version of the vaccine. Although they can take an injectable version, the nasal spray is preferred by doctors who state that it is a safer option.
The current nasal spray, which is called FluMist, was made by combining nine different mutations of the flu virus. In the past, researchers believed that only five mutations were needed to make a strong vaccine, but Pekosz and his team believe otherwise. They state that using all nine mutations can create a better vaccine that includes fewer side effects.
Pekosz and his team are currently working with MidImmune in order to develop even better versions of FluMist. If all goes well, then a new vaccine could be ready for both older and younger people within 6-12 months. The group’s findings have been published in the journal Vaccine.