Tag Archives: flu vaccine

Flu vaccine may protect against severe COVID-19

Credit: Pixabay.

Good news for the millions of people across the world still queuing for a COVID-19 vaccine. According to a new study, the flu vaccine may offer at least some protection against the worst symptoms of COVID-19. The researchers stress that this doesn’t mean that a flu shot can act as a replacement for a COVID-19 vaccine, which is your best bet against dodging the dangerous illness that forced the world to grind to a halt last year.

The researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in the USA combed the TriNetX datasets that contain records on more than 70 million patients and identified two groups totaling 37,377. Patients from both groups were all, at some point, diagnosed with COVID-19, but those belonging to the first group had taken a flu vaccine between two weeks and six months before their diagnosis while those in the second group received no vaccine. The study period was between January 2020 and January 2021, when COVID vaccines weren’t widely available.

After accounting for factors that could affect the risk of severe COVID-19, including age, gender, smoking, and comorbidities such as obesity, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the researchers found that patients that had received a flu shot were less likely to become hospitalized or die after infection with the coronavirus.  By accounting for these numerous lifestyle differences, we believe that there is a great deal of confidence that our two groups were very similar not only in terms of medical co-morbidities and diagnoses but also in terms of their access to healthcare.

Patients who didn’t get a flu vaccine were up to 20% more likely to have been admitted to the intensive care unit, as well as 58% more likely to visit the emergency department, 45% more likely to develop sepsis, and 58% more likely to have a stroke. The risk of death, however, was not reduced.

“This dataset has millions of patients and provides cohorts with very large sample sizes, which in turn helps to validate the statistics. Our analysis demonstrates a potential protective effect of influenza vaccination in SARS-CoV-2-positive patients against adverse outcomes within 30, 60, 90, and 120 days of a positive diagnosis. Significant findings include influenza vaccination mitigates the risks of sepsis, stroke, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), emergency department (ED) & Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admissions, thus suggesting a potential protective effect that could benefit populations without readily available access to SARS-CoV-2 vaccination,” Devinder Singh, the study’s senior author and a professor of plastic surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told ZME Science.

More research is required to confirm this link, preferably by prospective randomized clinical trials. Although no one knows for sure yet why the flu shot provides protection against COVID-19, one theory suggests that the protective effect is owed to an enhanced innate immune system. This general immune system responds to all kinds of pathogens, new or old, unlike the adaptive immune system that is primed against specific viruses.

Previously, researchers at the University of Georgia found that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine may also offer protection against COVID-19 and may partly explain why children, who typically receive this vaccine around their first birthday, are largely immune to COVID.

Although close to 50% of the population of the USA and the European Union has been vaccinated with at least one dose against COVID, in developing nations that tally currently hovers at an underwhelming 1%. In this context, flu shots may be a temporary band-aid that the global health community can use to reduce morbidity and mortality due to the pandemic until proper vaccines become accessible to all in need. Besides, having a flu vaccine offers nothing but benefits.

“Our work is important not only because limited resources around the world continue to constrain access to the COVID vaccine, but also because it may help to address concerns about vaccine development. The flu vaccine has a much longer track record of safety, and this fact may help address the hesitancy reported in some people with respect to the COVID19 vaccine. The global population may benefit from influenza vaccination as it can dually act to prevent a coronavirus and influenza ‘twindemic’ which could potentially overwhelm healthcare resources,” Singh said.

However, Singh and colleagues emphasize that they “absolutely recommend the COVID19 vaccine, and in no way suggest the flu vaccine is a substitute to the proper COVID19 vaccine.”

The findings were presented at this week’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID).

Scientists are ‘encouraged’ by advanced universal flu vaccine

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As 2020 draws near to a close, it’s quite clear that the world was not ready for a pandemic — but hopefully, we will avert those that may follow. Influenza viruses have been responsible for many pandemics in the past, including the devastating 1918 Spanish flu that killed 50 million people worldwide. But a universal flu vaccine developed by researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital could stop a future influenza outbreak dead in its tracks before it gets the chance to develop into a pandemic.

There are quite a few strains of influenza circulating among people that cause seasonal flu, which is responsible for about 650,000 deaths every year globally. In order to prevent infection, people can get vaccinated but the problem is that there are not only different flu viruses circulating, but viruses can also mutate. If antibodies from a previous infection or vaccine meet a virus whose surface structure they don’t recognize, then those receptors don’t match and they cannot block it.

This is why we have to take a flu vaccine every year — and they’re not perfect. These vaccines contain three or four strains of the influenza virus, which public health experts predict will be circulating in the subsequent season. The problem is that sometimes these predictions don’t match the reality in the field, with different strains actually circulating among the population.

For years, scientists have been working on a universal vaccine that would both offer protection against multiple known strains of influenza and prime the body against new outbreaks. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but a vaccine developed at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City may be the most promising one so far.

The chimeric hemagglutinin (HA)-based vaccine targets different parts of the hemagglutinin protein, the major surface glycoprotein of the influenza virus that binds to host cell receptors.

“An influenza virus vaccine that results in broad immunity would likely protect against any emerging influenza virus subtype or strain and would significantly enhance our pandemic preparedness, avoiding future problems with influenza pandemics as we see them now with COVID-19” says Florian Krammer, Professor of microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and corresponding author of the study.

“Our chimeric hemagglutinin vaccine is a major advance over conventional vaccines which are often mismatched to the circulating strains of virus, impacting their effectiveness. In addition, revaccinating individuals annually is a huge and expensive undertaking.”

Conventional vaccines produce neutralizing antibodies by targeting a part of the hemagglutinin, known as the globular head domain. The problem is that mutations help the virus escape neutralization through a process known as “antigenic drift”, according to Peter Palese, professor of microbiology and chair of the Department of Microbiology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and co-author of the study.

“This genetic change, or shift, in the virus results in immunity to only specific strains of the influenza virus, requiring frequent re-formulation and re-administration of seasonal vaccines. Our chimeric HA vaccine, by contrast, is directed at the proximal part of the HA protein — the stalk domain — which has been shown to broadly neutralize diverse influenza virus strains in both animal models and humans,” he added.

Such a vaccine not only offers broad protection but is also multifunctional, in the sense that the antibodies it induces can neutralize many kinds of influenza viruses.

For countries that lack an advanced medical infrastructure and the resources to vaccinate their population every year, a universal vaccine would be extremely appealing. Most importantly, as this pandemic has shown, we need robust tools at our disposal in order to nip potential devastating outbreaks in the bud.

Of course, safety is first. In a phase 1 clinical trial that involved 65 participants in the United States, the researchers found that the vaccine produced a strong immune response that was still viable 18 months after vaccination.

“This phase of our clinical work significantly advances our understanding of the immune response in terms of its longevity,” said Dr. Krammer, “and leaves us greatly encouraged about future progress for this potentially breakthrough vaccine.”

The findings appeared in the journal Nature Medicine.

Diabetes rising worldwide: one in 11 adults affected

Diabetes is one of the world’s fastest growing chronic diseases with over 463 million adults (that’s 1 in 11 adults) around the world living with this chronic medical condition according to new data published in the 9th Edition of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) Diabetes Atlas. The latest Atlas also reports that the global prevalence of diabetes has reached 9.3%, with more than half (50.1%) of adults undiagnosed. A further 1.1 million children and adolescents under the age of 20, live with type 1 diabetes.

A decade ago, in 2010, the global projection for diabetes in 2025 was 438 million. With over five years still to go, that prediction has already been surpassed by 25 million. IDF estimates that there will be 578 million adults with diabetes by 2030, and 700 million by 2045.

Diabetes itself is not a major problem unless the blood glucose is uncontrolled and either rises too high or drops too low. If diabetes is not managed correctly (meaning blood glucose is not properly regulated), sufferers are likely to become progressively sick and debilitated.

Over time, diabetes can damage the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, eyes and nerves. For diabetics, maintaining blood sugar levels in a normal range — not too high or too low — is a lifelong challenge. Half of the people with diabetes die of cardiovascular disease (primarily heart disease and stroke), and 10–20 percent of people with diabetes die of kidney failure. Diabetes is also a major cause of blindness and lower limb amputation.

IDF estimates that approximately 4.2 million adults will die as a result of diabetes and its complications in 2019. This is equivalent to one death every eight seconds.

Flu season is quickly approaching and patients with diabetes are particularly at high risk of serious flu-related complications that can result in hospitalization or even death. Diabetics are twice as likely to die from heart disease or stroke as people without diabetes and six times more likely to be hospitalized. 

Flu infection can cause changes in blood sugar and prevent people with diabetes from eating properly, which further affects blood glucose. Moreover, diabetes can make the immune system less able to fight infections. Diabetes patients with flu face very serious health risks such as ketoacidosis (a condition when the body cannot use sugar as a fuel source because there is no insulin or not enough insulin) and Hyperosmolar Hyperglycaemic State (HHS).

It is important for people with diabetes to follow the sick day guidelines if they become ill. Flu vaccination is especially important for people with diabetes because they are at high risk of developing serious flu complications. Flu vaccination has also been associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes (79%). Diabetics who get the flu should ask their doctors about prescription antiviral medications that can ease symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. For best results, antivirals should be taken within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms.

Got a heart condition? High blood pressure? Beware of the flu

Influenza vaccination in patients with high blood pressure is associated with an 18% reduced risk of death during flu season, according to research presented today at European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2019 together with the World Congress of Cardiology.

“Given these results, it is my belief that all patients with high blood pressure should have an annual flu vaccination,” said Daniel Modin research associate at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. “Vaccination is safe, cheap, readily available, and decreases influenza infection. On top of that, our study suggests that it could also protect against fatal heart attacks and strokes, and deaths from other causes.”

The study used Danish nationwide healthcare registers to identify 608,452 patients aged 18 to 100 years with hypertension during nine consecutive influenza seasons (2007 to 2016).

The researchers determined how many patients had received a flu vaccine prior to each season. They then followed patients over each season and tracked how many died.

They recorded death from all causes, death from any cardiovascular cause, and death from heart attack or stroke. Finally, they analyzed the association between receiving a vaccine prior to flu season and the risk of death during flu season. 

After adjusting for patient differences, in a given influenza season, vaccination was associated with an 18% relative reduction in the risk of dying from all causes, a 16% relative reduction in the risk of dying from any cardiovascular cause, and a 10% relative reduction in the risk of dying from heart attack or stroke.

He said: “Heart attacks and strokes are caused by the rupture of atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries leading to the heart or the brain. After a rupture, a blood clot forms and cuts off the blood supply. It is thought that the high levels of acute inflammation induced by influenza infection reduce the stability of plaques and make them more likely to rupture.”

In a study published earlier this year in Open Forum Infectious Diseases, investigators from Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, NYU School of Medicine, University of Groningen, and University of Toronto combed through published data on all-cause mortality rates among heart failure patients who received the influenza vaccine and found that flu vaccination was associated with a 31% decreased risk of all-cause mortality in those patients.

The effect was more prominent (51% lower risk) during influenza season. The authors drew from eight studies published since 2000, which included a total of 82,354 patients (average age of 65) with heart failure. They found that patients who had received seasonal flu vaccine had a reduced risk of all-cause mortality (hazard ratio [HR], 0.69; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.51 to 0.87), especially during flu season (HR, 0.49; 95% CI, 0.30 to 0.69).

A study in Denmark published in Circulation in December 2018 looked at a cohort of 134,048 patients who were aged 18 years or older and diagnosed with heart failure in the period of January 1, 2003, to June 1, 2015.

The research team, composed of investigators from the University of Copenhagen and Harvard Medical School, found that frequent vaccination and vaccination earlier in the year (before the flu season in Denmark – September to October) were associated with larger reductions in the risk of death compared with intermittent and late vaccination.

Why do people with heart disease need the flu vaccine?

Influenza infection has been associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and worsening of chronic cardiovascular conditions.

Previous research has found that people with heart disease are at least six times more likely to have a heart attack after coming down with the flu. Because of the close relationship between heart failure and respiratory illness, with over half of heart failure complications thought to be triggered by respiratory infection, the role of influenza vaccination, which is widely available at low cost, has been described as a potential disease-modifying intervention.

In addition to the inflammatory effects of influenza infection, which have been linked to increases in atherogenesis, the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines during acute infection may directly depress myocardial contractility. Because of these recent evidences, the authors recommend seasonal flu vaccines for eligible heart failure patients.

When it comes to influenza — Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus

Flu vaccine seems more effective in women; men recover faster from the flu.

Influenza (also known as the flu) is the smartest virus on the planet. Every year, seasonal influenza kills up to 650,000 people in the world, but when the flu season is over, people usually forget about the hundreds (or even thousands) who died and how bad the past flu season was. Until scientists create something more effective, the flu shot is still the best way to protect yourself and your family from flu and any associated illness. But no matter how often people are reminded to get the vaccine, and how often healthcare professionals tell patients compelling reasons to get vaccinated, flu shots are always a hard sell.

Scientists conduct studies each year to determine how well the influenza (flu) vaccine protects against flu illness. While vaccine effectiveness can vary, studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine. The vaccine’s effectiveness can also vary depending on the characteristics of the person being vaccinated (such as their age and health), and the similarity or “match” between the flu strains included in the vaccine and the flu viruses spreading in the community. However, gender appears to have a significant impact on the efficacy of the influenza vaccine as well according to a study entitled “Should sex be considered as an effect modifier in the evaluation of influenza vaccine effectiveness?” published in Open Forum Infectious Diseases.

It has long been known that gender can correlate with health with influenza. For example, women have increased exposure to influenza due to historical gender norms under which more women serve as primary caregivers than men. Nevertheless, men, although exposed less to the flu, tend to have higher rates of mortality and morbidity from the flu. Women are also more likely to be vaccinated than men, and they tend to seek health care more quickly when they are sick.

Colorized transmission electron micrograph showing H1N1 influenza virus particles. Surface proteins on the virus particles are shown in black. Credit: NIAID, Flickr.

Colorized transmission electron micrograph showing H1N1 influenza virus particles. Surface proteins on the virus particles are shown in black. Credit: NIAID, Flickr.

Investigators in this study wanted to ascertain the extent to which gender itself—not just cultural and behavioral norms around gender— could affect the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. To study the question, the investigators looked at a database of patients over seven flu seasons, from 2010-2011 to 2016-2017. Patients were included if they were at least 1-year-old and had seen a doctor within seven days of the onset of flu-like symptoms. Vaccination status was recorded based on patient self-reports and only those who had been given the flu shot at least two weeks before the diagnosis of flu were included in the study.

Results showed that women were less likely than men (43% versus 40%) to end up with a positive flu test and were more likely (29% versus 23%) to have received the flu shot. The overall vaccine effectiveness for women was considerably higher (49% versus only 38% for men). The difference in effectiveness varied by strain with the greatest dissimilarity in the A (H3N2) and B (Victoria) strains. Among patients not given the flu vaccine, there was no gender-based difference in influenza infection rates.

The authors wrote that “…these findings suggest that biological gender differences in response to the vaccine, rather than gender differences in health care seeking or vaccination status reporting, likely explains the observed differences in influenza VE between males and females.” In addition, the authors noted that previous research has suggested women have “stronger innate and adaptive immune responses, including more pronounced antibody response to influenza vaccine, in association with higher rates of local and systemic adverse events following immunization.”

Credit: Air Force District of Washington.

Credit: Air Force District of Washington.

Another possible biological cause for the difference in vaccine effectiveness is that testosterone can be immunosuppressive at high levels. The gender-based difference in vaccine effectiveness gap was most obvious among older adults (potentially because of age-related immune system changes or immunosenescence) and prepubescent children. According to corresponding author Danuta Skowronski MD, FRCPC, of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, if the findings are confirmed, one day physicians and vaccine developers might consider gender when developing newer influenza vaccines and flu prevention strategies.

This comes after the publication by scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the journal Biology of Sex Differences showing that a protein called amphiregulin (AREG) could be the reason why men recover from influenza more quickly than women. AREG is an Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF)-like molecule that plays a critical role in wound and tissue healing following infection or injury.

Certainly, more evidence is needed before public health experts can say whether influenza prevention strategies should vary by gender or whether a gender-specific influenza prevention strategy is warranted. But for now we know that flu vaccine effectiveness seems to be higher in women but men seem to recover faster from the influenza infection.

Can We Outsmart The Smartest Virus On The Planet?

 

Image in Wiki Commons.

Humans have battled viruses for thousands of years — just like the perpetual battle of good and evil. There seems to be news about a new or re-emerging pathogen almost every day. The last Ebola outbreak in DR Congo reminded us of the Ebola virus epidemic in 2014 in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone that killed over 11,300 people despite not being a respiratory virus spread through the air. Then, the Zika virus emerged as a significant global health risk as infection during pregnancy was associated with babies born with microcephaly — this kept researchers and doctors in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean worried, busy, and perplexed. The 2016 yellow fever outbreak in Angola, and the 2017 and 2018 outbreak in Brazil, killed hundreds of people despite there being an available that is highly effective (approaching 100% efficacy). So, what about a virus that can spread through the air? There’s no need for a sneeze or a cough. A single breath can harbor a virus and infect others — viruses which can survive on hard surfaces for 24 hours, can increase the risk of fetal death and stillbirth during pregnancy, and can kill up to 650,000 people in the world each year.

A new virus with these features will surely be on the news and scare everyone. In fact, this virus is influenza — the virus people talk about from before winter up to early spring. Over the past weeks, news of people of all ages dying from flu made headlines. In fact, according to US CDC’s Acting Director, Anne Schuchat, deaths from the current outbreak will probably outnumber those of the 2009 — 2010 season. What’s worse is that the number of deaths is expected to grow because flu activity is still rising. From Australia in the Southern Hemisphere to Europe and across North America, this flu season has been a deadly one and all over the news. But, after the flu season ends, people will forget about the thousands of people who died and how bad the flu season was.

Influenza is the perfect assassin. It comes and infects a person and makes the person more susceptible to infection by another pathogen. The person gets killed by the new pathogen, and the death is recorded as mortality due to that pathogen, not the flu. The virus is so smart that it is causing many complications and deaths, yet most people only compare it with the common cold. A recent study has shown that flu increases heart attack risk — a person is six times more likely to have a heart attack in the week after a flu diagnosis. Imagine how many deaths the flu triggered from heart attacks. People with diabetes, even when well-managed, are at high risk of severe influenza complications, often resulting in hospitalization and sometimes even death. Imagine how many hospital admissions for complications of diabetes and deaths started with the flu.

There are vaccines available, we have had flu vaccines for over 70 years now, and they have been improved slowly over the years. From a vaccine targeting only one flu strain in the 1930s, we now have a vaccine that targets four circulating flu strains. We even have flu vaccines made specially for the elderly. But for flu vaccines to work, people need to get vaccinated every year.

No matter how many times people are reminded to get the vaccine, and how often doctors tell their patients compelling reasons to get vaccinated, flu shots are always a hard sell. Most people are reluctant to think about their chances of getting sick, especially when they are “healthy” and do not get sick. It’s like selling insurance. Several myths and fake news persist that contribute to parents resisting getting the flu vaccine for themselves and their children. Some people believe it when their evangelist tells them that they do not need to get the flu vaccine because “Jesus himself gave us the flu shot. We’ve already had our shot. He bore our sicknesses and carried our diseases. That’s what we stand on.” Still, others are confused when scientists say that getting the vaccine every year increases the risk of getting the flu compared with people who are unvaccinated but ends with a message that there should be no changes in the recommendation of getting the vaccine every year. So, which is it?

Because more people do not get the flu vaccine, herd immunity (community immunity or population immunity) is compromised. Herd immunity protects the people who haven’t been given the vaccine especially those with compromised immune systems, such as the young, old, and those with weak immune systems.  To achieve herd immunity, where the virus is not able to spread easily and infect people, a certain percentage of the population should be immunized. So, getting the flu vaccine is not just about you, but about the community as well.

So how can we outsmart the smartest virus? Education and public health campaigns and scientific research. The flu vaccine can be further improved but the vaccines we have now are as good as we can make them. Flu vaccines stored in the fridge do not benefit anyone. Get the flu shot! It is far from perfect, but 50% or 40% or even 30% efficacy is better than ZERO and helps prevent the virus from spreading to the rest of the people in the community.

universal flu vaccine

Universal flu vaccine: now closer than ever

Researchers have identified a new class of antibodies that are capable of neutralizing a wide range of influenza A viruses, a discovery that could potentially lead to a universal flu vaccine. The vaccine would be applied only once an, instead of once every flu season today. Protection against all strains of flue, even mutated ones, would be assured for life according to scientists at McMaster and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

A universal vaccine for the influenza could keep the flu at bay for life

universal flu vaccine

Credit: CBC.ca

Matthew Miller, a senior author of the novel stud, and colleagues compared the potency of an isolated strain-specific flu antibody (the kind seasonal flue vaccines are based on) with an isolated broadly-neutralizing flu antibody (the stuff universal flu vaccines might be made of) in a controlled lab setting. The team found that the latter had a much weaker neutralization activity, which sounds like they’re less effective. However, when the antibodies were isolated in their natural setting from human blood, the results were comparable with the strain-specific shots. In addition, unlike the strain-specific vaccine, a vaccine based on a broadly-neutralizing antibody works against many strains of influenza.

This is the first time a detailed analysis of broadly-neutralizing antibodies in a natural setting was conducted. Antibodies derived from the lungs and upper respiratory system were found to be the most potent, according to the paper published in the Journal of Virology.

“This would prevent the occurrence of flu pandemics and poor vaccine efficiency in the case of mismatches, which actually occurred this year,” Miller said.

“This is also very encouraging and provides guidance as to what vaccine would be best for delivering a universal flu vaccine – that is, inactivated versus live-attenuated,” he added.

The inactivated vaccine is none other the flu shot you and me have to know. It consists of virus particles which are grown in eggs under controlled conditions and are then killed using a detergent-based method. This vaccine is important because it can be given to almost everyone 6 months of age and older. Each year, approximately 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized because of influenza (the flu) and about 10,000-20,000 die. However, flu viruses are always changing. Each year’s flu vaccine is made to protect against three or four viruses that are likely to cause disease that year. As such, the flu vaccine cannot prevent all cases of flu, but it is the best defense against the disease at the moment.

The attenuated vaccine, on the other hand, is made by the reducing the potency or virulence of the pathogen, all while still keeping the virus “alive” (viable). The attenuation allows the virus to replicate harmlessly in the upper respiratory tract so that an immune response can be generated, but renders it useless at infecting the lung where disease normally occurs.

According to Miller, a universal flu vaccine could become a reality in the next five to seven years.

Pregnant-woman-injection-image

Vaccination starts with pregnancy, for everyone’s good health

Soon to be mommies are up for some of their stressful times, since it seems they’re bombarded with all sorts of contradictory information how to deliver their babies as healthy and safe as possible. After labor, there are other things to consider as well: the baby should sleep on his back, car seats are safer for newborns etc etc. The most important message mommies are missing, however, is that pregnant women and their babies need vaccines to stay healthy, according to  Saad Omer, a researcher the Royal Society for Public Health.

Parents and vaccines

Pregnant-woman-injection-image

Credit: Total Assist

“When you start talking about childhood vaccines with parents after their babies are born, it is already too late,” he says. “Young parents are more receptive when they are pregnant. There are already lots of messages that are targeted to them during pregnancy, such as breastfeeding and safety. We need to add mother and child vaccinations to that.”

Omer and colleagues were among the first to prove babies born during flu season (October 1 to May 31) and whose mothers were vaccinated during pregnancy were less likely to be premature or small for their gestational age than babies born to unvaccinated mothers. In another study, Omer demonstrated that vaccinating pregnant women against influenza also protected the newborn babies. Thanks to his work,  the World Health Organization now recommends the use of the influenza vaccination globally, especially among pregnant women.

“Vaccinating pregnant women is especially important in developing countries,” he says. “Here in the United States, premature babies go to the NICU. In many parts of developing countries, there is no NICU. Worldwide, 1 million deaths are associated with preterm births.”

But why aren’t enough women doing it? According to Omer, it all stats with health care providers. Women are more likely to get vaccinated during pregnancy and more likely to have their children vaccinated if their health care provider recommends doing so.

“Health care providers are the most trusted source of immunization information,” Omer says. “How physicians approach vaccination with parents has an impact on vaccination update rates. If vaccination is treated as a routine part of care, then children are more likely to get boosters.”

Vaccine noncompliance, or vaccine refusal, raises everyone’s risk of disease, he notes. “Vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, influenza, and pertussis often start among persons who forego vaccinations, spread rapidly within unvaccinated populations, and also spread to other subpopulations.”

Oddly enough, fewer people are vaccinating themselves or their children. In 2010, a pertussis outbreak in California was thought to be due to a waning immunity from vaccines, but Omer and team were the first show that something else was at play. They found areas with high rates of children entering kindergarten with a nonmedical exemption for vaccines were 2.5 times more likely to be living in a pertussis cluster. The state’s rate of nonmedical exemption more than tripled during the 10 years prior to the outbreak. Why? Well, have you seen the anti-vaccine posts on facebook and elsewhere on the net? There you have it.

As far as I can tell, it all started with a claim – later proven wrong on numerous occasions – that vaccines cause autism in children. In 2007, nearly 5,000 parents of autistic children filed a lawsuit against the federal government, claiming that childhood vaccines (specifically the mercury-containing thimerosal in the vaccines) caused their children’s autism. To this day vaccination skepticism still lingers, despite pseudoscience rebuttals.  Thousands of parents have been frightened into rejecting or delaying immunizations for their children. The immunization rate has dropped, resulting in the return of endemic measles in the U.K. and various outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S. children have died. Herd immunity has been lost. This is no joke, this is a serious threat to public health!

It’s believed 3% US parents are hardcore vaccine skeptics, while 25% are so-called “fence sitters” who may decline some but not all child vaccines, and they should be the focus of the public health community, Omer says. “We don’t want them to move into the refusal group.”

“The bottom line is that vaccines are still one of the most effective tools we have for preventing disease in children,” he adds. “Maintaining high levels of vaccine coverage will help ensure that we keep the progress we’ve made in eradicating or warding off childhood diseases.”

Universal flu vaccine breakthrough

British scientists claim to have made a significant breakthrough regarding a universal flu vaccine; this new vaccine, developed by researchers from the Oxford University is different from all other types of vaccine, as it targets the proteins inside the virus, rather than proteins on the flu’s external coat.

The major advantage is that the proteins inside the virus are far less likely to mutate and therefore are similar across pretty much every strain of the illness. Traditional vaccines stimulate the body to produce antibodies to fight against the flu, while the vaccine developed by the team led by Sarah Gilbert, boosts the production of T-cells, which identify and kill infected cells.

“Fewer of the people who were vaccinated got flu than the people who weren’t vaccinated,” said Gilbert. “We did get an indication that the vaccine was protecting people, not only from the numbers of people who got flu but also from looking at their T-cells before we gave them flu. The volunteers we vaccinated had T-cells that were activated, primed and ready to kill.”

Aside from saving numerous lives and preventing flu outbreaks such as the recent swine flu outbreak, it would also be cheaper and save taxpayers a whole lot money as only the British government pays over £1.2 billion in traditional vaccine preparation.