A running list of facts about vaccines. Trivia to impress your friends, myths to debunk, and tidbits to enrich your scientific understanding.
The Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine Has Begun…
The WHO is now reporting that there are 8 candidate vaccines in some stage of clinical trials. Four of these candidate vaccines are being developed in China, one by Pfizer, one by Inovio, one by the University of Oxford, and one by Moderna/ the National Instutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The Moderna vaccine made headlines this morning: its Phase I trial published preliminary results which showed that in 8 subjects who received the lowest and middle doses of the vaccine (25 and 100 micrograms), neutralizing antibodies were produced.
These data are limited – as a sample size of 8 is very small, but it is encouraging that all tested participants produced neutralizing antibodies, which we know from studies of SARS are necessary to achieve immune protection. Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer stated that though the data is early, the vaccine produced an immune response with similar magnitude to a natural infection. The FDA has approved a Phase 2 trial, which will give more information about the potential for this vaccine. Stay tuned!
May 18, 2020
2017 Flu Mortality Highest in Four Decades
The CDC recently released last year’s flu mortality surveillance data, citing the highest flu death toll in at least four decades with roughly 80,000 flu-related deaths. 180 of those deaths were pediatric, the highest reported in recent years. If you’re curious, check out some cool interactive flu data from the CDC’s Flu Dashboard to find out more.
While seasonal influenza always results in some mortality, recent flu seasons have led to a death toll of about 12,000 to 56,000 depending on the severity of the flu in a given year.
So why was last year’s flu so deadly? Last year’s flu was dominated by circulating H3N2, a strain of the influenza A virus that tends to cause more complications and is harder to prevent with vaccination. For more information on why the flu shot is less effective against H3N2, check out this helpful Vox article.
The good news – this flu season is anticipated to be less H3 dominated, which means the flu will be milder and the vaccine will likely be more effective. So go get your shot!
September 30, 2018
FluGen’s New Flu Vaccine…Explained
The NIH has supported a Phase 1 clinical trial for a new flu vaccine from FluGen, Inc, a potentially broadly cross-protective vaccination.
As of now, we need to get a flu shot every year. This is because the flu virus changes each flu season, experiencing genetic shift and drift. Drift, or small changes in the genes of influenza viruses that happen continually over time as the virus replicates, can accumulate over time until the body no longer recognizes the flu virus, and needs to start all over with new antibodies. Shift, on the other hand, is an abrupt, major change in the influenza A virus, creating a virus that is so different from previous viruses that most people do not have immunity. (Remember H1N1, or Swine Flu? This is an example of genetic shift).
To keep up, scientists need to predict which strains will be most common in the next flu season and reformulate the vaccine each year. If those predictions are wrong, the vaccine may not be very effective. The ultimate goal would be to create a universal flu vaccine which can trigger an immune response no matter what shift and drift happens.
So this vaccine is exciting because even though it’s made from a single strain of flu (H3N2), it was genetically designed to replicate only once in the body. This does not cause disease but still prompts a significant immune response, which hopefully will provide broad protection against different flu strains.
Stay tuned at clinicaltrials.gov to see what the results find in 9-17 year old adolescents!
September 17, 2018
A measles outbreak occurs due to the prevalence of vaccine hesitancy and your child gets sick. Can you sue?
A thought piece from lawyer Rebecca Rodal and physician Kumanan Wilson. In Canada, there was a confirmed case of measles at a Maple Ridge high school this week, prompting fears about a potential outbreak. Measles vaccination coverage in British Columbia is reportedly around 80%, too low to reach herd immunity levels to protect the community from measles (at least 95% vaccination coverage is needed).
The general idea in the paper is that it is unfair for children of parents who follow public health recommendations to suffer due to the choices of parents who elect not to follow these recommendations. I think we can all agree this makes sense.
So – could you sue?
Probably not, Wilson and Rodal concluded — it would be tough to link an infection back to one individual. But theoretically individuals could be held responsible and sued.
While Wilson and Rodal concede exemptions are the choice of parents, they believe the decision to use a personal belief exemption “should be reframed as one that does not negate liability if it results in a foreseeable and identifiable harm.”
The question is – would reframing the choice not to vaccinate as one with legal repercussions hold water in the US? Would it make a difference?
September 9, 2018
More reasons to get your flu shot (and to vaccinate your child)
First – you CANNOT get the flu from the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is a killed vaccine and cannot cause infection.
Now that we’ve established that, let’s discuss flu shot effectiveness. The flu vaccine is never perfect. Based on forecasts of which strains will circulate in a coming year, scientists have to make educated guesses about how to engineer the annual flu vaccine. Last year, the flu vaccine was estimated to be 36% effective (with a confidence interval of 27%–44%). However, even if the flu shot is only 20% effective (the lower end of its possible seasonal effectiveness) it can save tens of thousands of lives across the country.
Last flu season, 179 children died and thousands more were hospitalized with complications from the flu. 80% percent of the children who died had not been vaccinated according to the CDC. The flu vaccine not only reduces a child’s risk of contracting the flu, but also limits the likelihood of developing severe symptoms and complications.
Talk to your doctor about getting your flu shot before Halloween and stay healthy this flu season!
September 4, 2018
CDC Updates Flu Vaccine Recommendations for 2018
On August 24, the CDC updated the recommendations for seasonal flu vaccinations this year. Flu viruses typically circulate in the US each year, from late fall through early spring. While most people who contract the flu will recover without serious complications, in some instances complications may include hospitalization and death, particularly among older adults, very young children, and immunosuppressed individuals.
While the FluMist (LAIV4) was specifically not recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for the past two flu seasons, this has been changed for the 2018–19 season. For this year’s flu season, vaccination providers may choose to administer any licensed, age-appropriate influenza vaccine, including FluMist.
The CDC also included recommendations about flu vaccine timing. Given the unpredictability of the onset of flu season and some concerns that vaccine-induced immunity might wane over a season, vaccination is recommended by the end of October.
August 26, 2018
Measles Cases in Europe have hit a record high in 2018
This year (2018), measles cases in Europe have hit a new record, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the first 6 months of 2018, there were over 41,000 cases of measles and 37 deaths in Europe. This is a striking uptick from the number of cases in 2017 – 23,927 cases, and the 5,273 cases in 2016. The bulk of these cases has come from the Ukraine, which has over 23,000 cases in 2018. This significant surge in measles cases has been attributed to a drop in the number of people being vaccinated and is prompting fines and changes in vaccine policy in Europe broadly.
August 19, 2018
Vaccines Make Economic Sense Too…
Every $1 invested in immunization services in low-and-middle-income countries returns an estimated $16 in health-care savings and increased economic productivity based on the cost of illness averted. If the calculation instead is done by quantifying the value that people place on living longer and healthier lives, there is a 44-fold return. This data comes from Ozawa et al’s 2016 paper: Return On Investment From Childhood Immunization In Low- And Middle-Income Countries, 2011-20.
August 5, 2018
The Burden of Vaccine Preventable Diseases
Vaccines against tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, hepatitis B, and Hib prevent an estimated 2.5 MILLION deaths every year among children under 5 years old. The vast majority of this burden is felt in the developing world.
July 30, 2018
The First Vaccination
Edward Jenner is credited with administering the first ‘vaccination’ against smallpox in 1796. Though he did not understand what viruses were, Jenner (then a medical student) noticed that milkmaids who had contracted cowpox seemed to be protected from smallpox. While smallpox caused severe blistering, fever, and death in humans, cowpox led to few symptoms. Jenner’s hunch was so strong that he took fluid from a cowpox blister and scratched it into the skin of an 8-year-old boy, who developed a single blister but soon recovered. A few months later, Jenner scratched the boy with fluid from a smallpox blister, but no disease developed. The vaccine was a success. Doctors soon adopted Jenner’s innovative technique, known as “variolation” coming from “variola”, the latin word for smallpox.
Note: Thankfully scientific consent and approval has come a long way since this process!
July 22, 2018