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Flu News Friday 3/26/21

Read the latest on influenza vaccines in this week’s roundup.

Image Credit: Fig. 1 of Boyoglu-Barnum et al. Design and characterization of HA nanoparticle immunogens.

The Latest in Influenza Vaccines

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Scientists from the University of Washington and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have designed a supraseasonal flu vaccine using custom nanoparticles. The vaccine was found to protect animals against a wide variety of seasonal and pandemic influenza strains. Supraseasonal influenza vaccines are designed to provide broader protection against a large subset of influenza viruses, including drifted strains. This is a promising step towards replacing annual seasonal flu vaccines that would serve as an intermediary step toward universal vaccine protection against influenza.

Devi Sridhar of the University of Edinburgh explains why we need to apply lessons learned from COVID-19 and take a long-term approach to pandemic preparedness. This includes sustaining investments in vaccine R&D, strengthening vaccine manufacturing capacity, and advancing the development of universal vaccines, including universal influenza vaccines.

A goal of universal vaccine protection against influenza is to elicit immunity across subtypes including highly pathogenic H5 avian influenza subtypes such as H5N8. This study examines the contribution of each of the H5N8 segments in inducing immune protection. Using reverse genetics, scientists generated an inactivated reassortment virus for vaccination that incorporated eight segments from H5N8 and seven segments from PR8 H1N1.

This study evaluates the safety and immunogenicity of a recombinant H7N9 pandemic influenza vaccine using adjuvants from the National Pre-Pandemic Influenza Vaccine Stockpile (NPIVS). Recombinant technology is a desirable alternative to cell-based or egg-based vaccines, particularly during a pandemic, due to the shorter time for manufacturing after development. This study lends insights for the use of recombinant protein vaccines for the NPIVS pandemic response strategies.

Due to social distancing measures to decrease the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, this season’s unprecedented low flu activity makes strain selection for the upcoming seasonal flu vaccine difficult. There is concern that the next seasonal flu shot could be less effective. The challenges in developing the upcoming season’s shot highlights the need to focus on the development of a broadly reactive, universal influenza vaccine that focuses the immune response on conserved portions of the virus.

Although H7 influenza viruses in humans are uncommon, there have been six epidemics that warrant concern of this subtype to develop human-to-human transmission and pandemic potential. This study investigates antigenic differences among influenza A H7 strains and to identify H7 HA proteins that could elicit protective, receptor-blocking antibodies against co-circulating H7 influenza strains. Specific amino acid mutations were identified that could result in vaccine mismatches. The authors conclude that future universal influenza vaccine candidates should take into account viral variants with these key mutations.

Adjuvants are co-administered with influenza vaccines to enhance immune responses and strengthen protection against disease. This publication reviews the mechanisms of enhanced innate and adaptive immunity from the use of squalene-based emulsion (SE) influenza vaccine adjuvants, particularly focusing on hemagglutinin-specific B cell responses.