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Flu News Friday 5/21/21

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

Image credit: Marco Verch

The Latest in Influenza Vaccines

Find a COVID-19 vaccine near you using VaccineFinder.org. VaccineFinder is a free, online service where users can search for locations that offer vaccinations.

STAT explores the future of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, drawing upon history of influenza viruses and the shift of previous pandemics to seasonal, endemic occurrences. Experts weigh in on what an endemic SARS-CoV-2 would mean and when this shift might occur.

The human leukocyte antigen (HLA) repertoire varies among different ethnic groups. Scientists identified an HLA allele with greater frequency in indigenous populations across the globe, HLA-A24. This allele has been associated with greater influenza mortality, particularly during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. The study defined the breadth of CD8+ T-cell epitopes presented by this HLA during influenza A and B infections to understand why HLA-A24 has a role in disease susceptibility and severity. The data show cross-reactive T-cell responses for both influenza A and B. The findings provide insights for the development of a T-cell universal influenza vaccine focused on protecting higher-risk populations.

Measuring correlates of protection for influenza vaccines often uses the gold-standard hemagglutination-inhibition (HI) assay, and increasingly the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and the neutralization (NT) assay. These approaches can have drawbacks, and so scientists developed a new method, NanoLIPS, to detect influenza-specific immune responses using a NanoLuciferase-tagged recombinant HA protein. Data from the NanoLuciferase-based luciferase immunoprecipitation system assay (NanoLIPS) was demonstrated to correlate with the protection of an experimental vaccine in animal models.

Currently, influenza vaccines primarily target the hemagglutinin (HA) surface protein. Yet, increasingly scientists are studying the potential for neuraminidase (NA), the other major surface protein, as a vaccine target. Using bioinformatics approaches, scientists designed a multi-epitope influenza vaccine based exclusively on the Influenza virus A neuraminidase (NA) protein. Specific B cell and T-cell epitopes from seven NA subtypes were selected for the vaccine based on their antigenicity and stability.

Current vaccine approaches to controlling seasonal and pandemic influenza “is akin to a game of Whack-a-Mole…knocking out all strains of the targeted virus with one swift strike — a universal vaccine — is the necessary approach.” EnGen Bio discusses their epitope-based universal influenza vaccine approach and how it compares to vaccine approaches from other companies and institutions.

Scientists developed a microneedle patch as a new strategy for universal influenza vaccine administration . The vaccine uses nanoparticles with an outer coating of cross-linked neuraminidase (NA) and flagellin (FliC) encapsulating a matrix protein 2 (M2e) core. NA and M2e are conserved domains of the influenza virus, while FliC was used to give the vaccine self-adjuvant capacity. The vaccine elicited broad cross-protective immunity involving both humoral and cellular arms of the immune system in a mouse model.

St. Jude researchers review the history and current state of influenza pandemic preparedness, including risk assessment tools, vaccination strategies and the basic research on influenza pathogenesis, evolution, and host interactions underpinning pandemic preparedness. The authors also examine how the influenza pandemic preparedness networks intersect with the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response released a new report presenting their findings and recommendations to curb the COVID-19 Pandemic and to ensure any future infectious disease outbreaks do not become another catastrophic pandemic. Among their findings, the Panel found that open data and open science collaboration were central to pandemic response. Among their conclusions, the current Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) should be transformed into a “truly global end-to-end platform to deliver global public goods” such as vaccines, while mRNA vaccine manufacturing capacity should be built in Low- and Middle-Income Countries to improve equitable access and distribution.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins university sought to identify how sociodemographic characteristics such as age, sex, gender, and race may intersect and influence seasonal flu vaccine acceptance, coverage, and adverse reactions. The authors reviewed over 3,000 previous studies from around the world from 2010 to 2020. Notable findings include that traditionally marginalized populations have lower influenza vaccine acceptance and coverage across studies and vaccine coverage rates were found to increase with age in every study. There is a paucity of literature on flu vaccine acceptance and uptake among pregnant Black women, a population group with persistently higher rates of morbidity, mortality, and hospitalizations from the virus.