The only thing worse than getting the flu is catching it after you’ve gotten a flu shot. It’s been a terrible year for outbreaks — the worst in almost a decade. Contributing to that is the high failure rate of this year’s flu shot. The shot was just 25% effective against the H3N2 virus, this season’s most-often-identified strain by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The experts say, with enough time and money, they can do a lot better.
Drug companies and public-health agencies are already grappling with the challenge of next year and beyond. Officials must decide several months ahead of flu season the make-up of the year’s vaccine. Flu shots are typically 40-60% effective in any given season, though this year fell far short of that mark. Their ultimate goal is a universal vaccine that would operate more like a measles shot than a vaccine targeted at a handful of strains of flu. The idea is to offer something closer to 90% protection against a disease for years — if not for life — with a single shot.
Long before the influenza season is in full swing the flu vaccine season is already in full swing, with banners outside of every pharmacies saying: “Get Your Flu Shot Now.” What they don’t say, however, is just how ineffective the vaccine is. The most commonly used flu shots protect no more than 60% of people who receive them; some years, effectiveness plunges to as low as 10%, like this flu season. Given a really bad flu season can kill 50,000 people in the US alone, “10% to 60% protection doesn’t seem that great. It’s a terribly inadequate vaccine for a serious public health threat. Now, researchers are striving to understand why it fails so often—and how to make it better.
The flu shot is supposed to teach the body to produce antibodies against the head of the virus’s surface protein. Those antibodies ideally prevent The virus from attaching to cellular receptors, thwarting infection. But the flu virus easily mutates, why vaccine makers must come up with a new formula yearly.
For decades, tests suggested the flu vaccine worked extremely well, but in the past 15 years a better test revealed many infections in vaccinated people who would previously have been deemed protected.
CREDITS: (GRAPHIC) G. GRULLÓN/SCIENCE; (DATA) F. M. DAVENPORT ET AL. MED J AUST. 1973; SUPPL 33-38; CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL & PREVENTION
The circulating strains continue to mutate after the vaccine is made, and the resulting “escape mutants” are often blamed for vaccine failure. Danuta Skowronski, an epidemiologist at the BC Centre for Disease Control in Vancouver, Canada, instead blames mutations in the vaccine strain itself. The most common influenza vaccine contains an “inactivated” virus, which manufacturers grow in chicken eggs. As Skowronski’s team first reported in 2014, the virus can mutate while it is growing in the eggs, resulting in a vaccine unable to block circulating strains.
“I think [these mutations] play an enormous role,” says viral immunologist Scott Hensley of the University of Pennsylvania. He has preliminary evidence egg-adapted mutations were behind the weak protection seen with the vaccine used in the 2016–17 season. The engineered vaccine offered more solid protection. That suggests a way to improve current vaccines, Hensley says. “I’d be shocked in 15 years if any of our flu vaccines are grown in eggs.”
Understanding the immune responses that correlate with protection could also help refine vaccines. Hensley’s group has shown the immune system is also biased by a child’s first exposure to flu, which leaves a ghost that affects responses to subsequent vaccines. This may explain why middle-aged people in 2013–14 were unusually hard-hit by a viral mutant that did not infect most vaccinated people, his team has reported. TheThe team’s studies showed that in this age group, the vaccine elicited antibodies to a similar—but not identical—Virus they had seen as kids, and the resultant immune response missed the target. “These first exposures shape how we respond our entire lives,” Hensley says.
Other evidence suggests that repeated vaccinations can blunt the immune response. “We don’t understand enough about the effects … to make any recommendations right now,” says Edward Belongia, an epidemiologist at the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute in Wisconsin, who led a recent study. Doctors still say, “The best strategy remains to get a vaccine yearly.” This is especially true for the elderly or immune-compromised people: Even if a vaccine fails to prevent infection, they may suffer less severe disease if immunized. However, not the case this season.
So Now Scientists Want to Completely Rethink How They Make the Flu Vaccine
Due to this year’s deadly flu season drugmakers have a sense of urgency in the war on the ever-mutating influenza virus.“There has to be a wholesale change to how we make the flu vaccine,” said Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “We’re always setting ourselves up for vaccine mismatch and failures and the like due to the lead time in how long it takes the vaccines to be made.” CDC Vaccine Schedule: Just How Many Shots are on the CDC Vaccine Schedule?
The out-maneuvering, stealthy, ever-mutating flu virus is about as tricky as it gets. There are hundreds of different viruses, and seasonal vaccines protect only against the three or four that researchers think will be the most common that season, creating an always moving target. The current epidemic has provided a new sense of urgency to push ahead. So Sanofi, the world’s biggest flu-vaccine maker, signed a deal with SK Chemicals Co. in February to advance the development of a universal vaccine.
Even using advanced techniques, a flu vaccine with a 90% effectiveness may be beyond reach, given the scientific challenges of targeting the virus over time. Shiver imagines that even a universal shot, were it to be successfully developed, would have to be constantly “We don’t know the best way to produce them, which is why, at Sanofi Pasteur, we’ve been accumulating technology for flexibility,” he said.
Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen research group is also doing pre-clinical work on a universal vaccine. “New innovations for influenza are urgently needed,” said Julian Symons, research and development leader of respiratory infections.
GlaxoSmithKline, another leading vaccine developer, is conducting one of the first studies of a universal flu vaccine in humans. The shot is from research directed in part by Peter Palese, the chair of microbiology at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York. Unlike current vaccines that target constantly changing proteins on the surface of the flu virus, Palese’s approach targets a part of the virus that remains relatively stable from year to year. Glaxo is lending expertise in boosting the immune response through vaccination, particularly because that region of the virus doesn’t typically elicit a big immune response.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says an effective universal flu vaccine would outsell the seasonal one. The annual vaccine brought in $2.4 billion for Sanofi and GSK in 2017 alone. Vaccines can be big business for pharma companies: Pfizer Inc.’s Prevnar, which prevents certain forms of pneumonia, was its top-selling product last year, bringing in $5.6 billion. Other lucrative vaccines include Merck & Co.’s $2.3 billion-in-sales Gardasil, which protects against the human papillomavirus, and Sanofi’s vaccine against polio and whooping cough, also about a $2 billion-a-year business.
So as to have a crack at those sorts of numbers, some experts say the push for a universal flu vaccine is going to require stepped-up investment.
“If you look at the resources that are now dedicated to the universal influenza vaccine, it’s small across the world, so there certainly needs to be mobilization,” said Wayne Koff, chief executive officer and president of the Human Vaccines Project, an organization that seeks to speed up vaccine development.
Some lawmakers are heeding the call. Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, introduced the Flu Vaccine Act this month, which would provide $1 billion over five years to fund efforts by the National Institutes of Health to develop a universal flu vaccine. Comparatively, Fauci’s division within NIH spent an estimated $64 million on such research in fiscal 2017. Dangerous Issue with our Medical Supply Chain, this years bad flu season has revealed a Big Problem
Even the most dedicated researchers say results won’t come overnight, and people should keep taking the seasonal flu shot for now. “This system prevents much disease, and it is our best tool,” said Leonard Friedland, director of scientific affairs for vaccines in North America at GSK. “Would we like to have vaccines which would be more effective? Of course we would. But if it were easy, it would’ve been done.”
A Natural Health Perspective on Vaccinations and the Flu
This all appears just another way for Big Pharmaceutical Companies and Research Labs to get rich and spend our tax dollars. With the ineffectiveness of recent flu vaccines and the added dangers of additives like mercury to vaccines it seems best to keep a strong immune system and take precautions not to get the flu. However, if you do come down with the flu it is usually a self-limiting condition that can usually be treated with rest and proper natural health support therapies.
If you get a cold or flu your body is trying to tell you something! It’s usually your body’s attempt to cleanse itself of waste, toxins, and bacterial overgrowth that build up to a point where natural immunity can’t overcome them. Your glands are always involved, as is the endocrine system. These systems are on a 6 day cycle and a normal cold last about a week as your body works through all its detoxification processes. Try to work with your body, not against it, to get over a cold. The flu tends to be worse and last longer, but can be overcome with the proper treatments. Natural remedies are effective in speeding recovery and reducing your discomfort. In my experience, over the counter cold medications halt the body’s cleansing and balancing process, and generally makes the process and suffering last longer.
Is it a Cold or the Flu?
Colds and Flu are distinct and separate infections, triggered by different viruses. The Flu is a much more serious illness, because flu can spread to the lungs, and cause severe bronchitis or pneumonia. In the beginning stages colds and flu may seem similar. Both conditions begin when one or more of over 200 viruses cause cold or flu penetrate the bodies protective barriers. Nose, eyes, and mouth are usually the sites of invasion from cold viruses. They mostly target for the flu virus is the respiratory tract. Colds and flu respond to different treatments. The following symptomatic charts can help identify your particular condition and allow you to deal with it better. Relieving Muscle Cramps and Pain Naturally
A Cold Looks like this:
- Slow onset
- Body aches
- Rarely accompanied by fever
- Symptoms are localized like a sore throat, sinus congestion, listlessness, runny nose, sneezing
- Includes mild fatigue and weakness due to body cleansing
- Mild to moderate chest discomfort, usually with hacking cough
- Sore or burning throat is common
A Flu Looks like this:
Swift and severe onset
Early and prominent prostration and body aches
Extreme Fatigue, can last as long as 2-3 weeks
Acute chest discomfort, with severe hacking cough
Sore throat occasionally
Accompanied by high (102-104*) fever, headache, sore eyes, achy muscles
IMPORTANT: Seek medical attention immediately if you have symptoms like difficulty breathing, unrelenting fever, severe fatigue, nausea and vomiting
Diet and Lifestyle Support Therapy
- Liquid diet during acute stage, drink Emergen-C
- 2 T Apple Cider Vinegar and 2 t local honey in warm water or garlic/ginger tea in the morning and garlic/miso soup at night (garlic is a great cleanser and natural antibiotic) or 2 T each lemon juice, honey, and 1 t fresh grated ginger at night
- When fever and acute stage has passed, Eat light meals-fresh or steamed vegetables, fresh fruit and juices, brown rice, mushrooms (esp. shiitake) and cultured foods for good intestinal flora
- Avoid dairy products (of all kinds), red meats, caffeine, sugary and fried foods during a cold. Chicken soup with pinches of garlic and cayenne pepper increase mucous release and reduce inflammation (just like grandma said!)
- Drink 8 glasses of liquid daily, especially green tea, peppermint tea, white tea, orange or tangerine juice
- Boost immune system with glutathione foods; Brussels sprouts, avocado, asparagus, watermelon, oranges, peaches, and green super-foods like chlorella and barley grass
- Aromatherapy steams or defusers are effective
- Eucalyptus opens up sinus passages
- Frankincense boosts immune response and speeds recovery
- Wintergreen relieves nasal congestion
- Mint or Chamomile relieves headaches
- Tea Tree Oil combats infection
- Herbs and Supplement Therapy
- Vitamin C crystal
- Zinc throat spray or lozenges
- Elderberry-mint-yarrow tea is good to coat the throat
- Deactivate a Cold: Mix in a glass of Aloe Vera juice: 1/4 t Vitamin C powder or syrup, 2t Elderberry syrup, 1/2 t Turmeric powder (or open one Curcumin capsule), and 1 opened echinacea capsule
- To cleanse congestion: Cayenne-garlic caps, Echinacea-Goldenseal caps, Dandelion root tea (it’s NOT just a weed, who knew?)
- During Recovery Phase: Use an extract, Zinc Lozenges kill throat bacteria
- Re-establish immune Health: Vitamin C 5000 mg daily decreases cold’s severity, NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine) boosts glutathione, panda ginseng, astragalus extract, or Siberian Eleuthera extract boost lymphocytes and interferon
- During High Risk Season: take a good Multi-Vitamin/Mineral and Probiotic, Acidophilus, Garlic caps, beta-carotene, Zinc 30 mg daily
DISCLAIMER: The information here is NOT medical advice. Do not institute any changes in your current health programs without consulting your Medical provider. For medical advice please consult your private physician or preferred health service provider.
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Original article for research first posted in: BiologyHealth
By Cynthia Koons and Ivan Levingston
By Jon Cohen
— With assistance by Karishma Motwani