An experimental universal flu vaccine is now being tested by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Around the world, the 1918 influenza epidemic claimed at least 50 million lives.
Dr. Jeffery K. Taubenberger, senior investigator for the NIH, is the head of a promising animal experiment testing mice with a universal flu vaccination. Even though the final version of Dr. Taubenberger’s research won’t be released until later this month, BPL-1357, a universal vaccine candidate, is based on it.
In order to determine its safety for humans, it is currently undergoing phase 1 clinical trials at the NIH.
Influenza can be considered a ‘continuously emerging’ infectious disease, and the diverse and rapidly evolving influenza viruses are a significant public health threat.
Additionally, the unpredictability of the novel antigenically transmissible influenza A virus that spreads from animals to humans can cause pandemics with much more severe effects on the public’s health.
Ingredients in the BPL-1357:
Dr. Taubenberger explained what the experimental vaccination is made of. There are Avian Flu strains in BPL-1357.
The vast and genetically and antigenically varied wild bird viral pool is the ultimate source of all influenza A viruses in humans.
The two main surface proteins of the virus in birds are hemagglutinin (HA), which has 16 subtypes, and neuraminidase (NA), which has 9 subtypes. For two reasons, the team decided to use a set of four HA subtypes: H1, H3, H5, and H7. First, throughout the past century, H1 and H3 have been primarily responsible for human influenza infections. The H5 and H7 avian viruses are thought to pose a risk of spreading to humans through zoonotic transmission.
In order to maximise the formation of a broad protective immunity, H1 and H5 are group 1 HA molecules, while H3 and H7 are group 2 HAs. The NA strains were chosen after similar factors.
The case for and against a universal Flu Vaccine:
The advantages of creating a universal flu vaccination were discussed by Dr. Palese.
The influenza vaccination has four components at all times. Both two influenza A and two influenza B components are present. Each year in February, the FDA is required to decide which of these four elements will be included in the upcoming vaccine formulation depending on surveillance. According to Dr. Palese, this choice is taken in June or July in the hopes that these elements will correspond well with the real versions that will be in circulation in November or December. But it doesn’t always work.
Dr. Palese said there were instances where we were only truly 20% effective. He believe that the current influenza virus vaccines are far better than their reputation suggests. Yes, they have flaws. If they claim that it is just 50% effective, it means that 50% of the time you have no symptoms at all. Some symptoms are present in the remaining 50%. However, compared to someone who would not have had the vaccination, these are far less severe. Additionally, people need to be reminded annually to obtain their flu shots. A universal vaccination, according to Dr. Palese, is one that one only needs to receive once in a lifetime rather than annually.
Dr. Sylvie Alonso, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore told the risks involved with such a vaccine. He was not involved in the current research, and cautioned that despite being theoretically safe, the manufacturing of this type of vaccine is a challenging process that carries some level of safety risk because significant amounts of live virus must be grown and handled. Dr. Alonso continued by saying that in order to guarantee complete virus inactivation, rigorous safety checks are necessary. Another crucial factor is making sure the virus does not change when being grown in large numbers.