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Flu News Friday 4/30/21

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

The Latest in Influenza Vaccines

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1. From mRNA Science to Virus Vectors: It’s Prime Time for Vaccine Technology
John Torres, NBC News and the Aspen Ideas Health festival / April 28, 2021

NBC News senior medical correspondent Dr. John Torres moderates a conversation with Dr. Adolfo García-Sastre, director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute developing a universal influenza vaccine and Dr. Özlem Türeci, co-founder and chief medical officer at BioNTech, where she led the efforts to develop the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Their discussion explains why the mRNA technology, grounded on decades of research, is a milestone for vaccine R&D, and the potential it has for broadly protective, universal vaccines.

Since the end of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, the average human life expectancy has doubled, a measure of human progress that is worth noting. As put by Steven Johnson of the New York Times, “the story of our extra life is a story of progress in its usual form: brilliant ideas and collaborations unfolding far from the spotlight of public attention, setting in motion incremental improvements that take decades to display their true magnitude.” The article discusses the journey to the rise in life expectancy and improved public health, noting that that innovations such as vaccines might have been “initiated by scientists,” but “the work of activists and public intellectuals and legal reformers” brought the benefits to the general public. The article is excerpted from Steven Johnson’s book, “Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer.”

Natural Killer cells (NK cells) are one of the first cells of the immune system to come in contact with the flu virus and flu-affected cells. This study examines the role of NK cells of the innate immune system in modulating anti-influenza CD8+ T cell responses. The findings suggest that after influenza infection, the reduction of NK cell activation results in an increased amount of cross-protective tissue-resident memory CD8+ T (CD8+ TRM) cells. The authors note for potential vaccine development, the modulation of NK cell activating receptor NKp46 binding is a possible approach to enhance protective CD8+ TRM development, “limiting respiratory immunopathology and susceptibility to secondary bacterial infection after re-challenge.”

The Atlantic discusses SARS-CoV-2 variants , and why we need a comprehensive approach to address them in addition to other coronaviruses, “rather than playing whack-a-mole with each new problematic variant,” as put by Anthony Fauci in the article. The article reviews research approaches and emphasizes the importance of developing universal vaccines to prevent the next pandemic. This ambitious but critical goal will require multidisciplinary approaches, including “cellular and systems biology, immunology, genetics, artificial intelligence, and structural modeling, to name a few.”

The European Scientific Working Group on Influenza (ESWI) Chairman Dr. Albert Osterhaus discusses the global burden of influenza, the impact of COVID-19 on the influenza treatment and research landscape, the role of education in infection control, and how we can prepare for the next influenza pandemic.

Intranasal live attenuated influenza vaccines (LAIVs) are desirable for their needle-free administration, ability to mimic the natural route of infection, and elicit mucosal immunity. However, some LAIVs require reconstitution for administration and cold-chain requirements, posing challenges for vaccine distribution and delivery. Scientists from the University of Georgia developed a dry-powder, thermostable delta inulin (Advax™)-adjuvanted LAIV using Preservation by Vaporization dry-powder technology. The vaccine elicited robust immune responses in a ferret model, and was protective against homologous challenge.

This study reviews and evaluates changes to national influenza vaccination policies reported on the WHO/UNICEF Joint Reporting Form on Immunization in the 194 WHO Member States. The authors conclude that national influenza vaccination policies “vary significantly by region, income, and immunization system strength,” and are less common in LMICs. The development of next-generation flu vaccines should incorporate measures to address the persistent challenges in the adoption of influenza vaccination policies, taking into account individual countries’ health objectives and priorities.

With the recent successes of mRNA vaccines for SARS-CoV-2, researchers are now working to utilize the technology for both a seasonal influenza and universal influenza vaccine, a malaria vaccine and an anti-cancer vaccine.

Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences examine the effects of a intradermal, seasonal influenza monovalent H1N1 split vaccine administered with a gp96-adjuvant. In a mouse model, the adjuvanted vaccine demonstrates elicitation of cross-reactive CD8+ T cell responses targeting conserved epitopes across different flu virus strains. Findings suggest the gp96 adjuvant could improve the ability of existing seasonal flu vaccines to elicit cross-protective immunity.