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Vincent Iannelli, M.D.

Flu Vaccine News

By January 27, 2013

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While reports of a probable link between narcolepsy in kids and the pandemic flu vaccine that was used in Europe and other countries got a lot of attention this past week, surprisingly, we didn't hear much about another published researched study.

Concerning the narcolepsy link, one article states that there is "not yet enough data or evidence to suggest a causal link" on the one hand, while "the evidence is already clearly pointing in one direction" on the other. The articles seem to have been triggered by leaks from a "yet-to-be published study in Britain," where they may have found similar patterns of narcolepsy in children as they found in Sweden and Finland. We will hopefully get some new information as all of the studies are completed on the Pandemrix flu vaccine, which wasn't used in the United States.

The other study about the pandemic flu vaccine, "Risk of Fetal Death after Pandemic Influenza Virus Infection or Vaccination," was published this month in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers found that getting a flu shot (the Pandemrix flu shot) during pregnancy reduced the risk of getting influenza, did not increase the risk of fetal death, and may have reduced the risk of flu-related fetal death. So while people may now be questioning the risk vs. reward of giving Pandemrix to children while looking back at the H1N1 pandemic, it certainly seems like it was a good idea for pregnant women.

Many parents will also be excited about some other flu vaccine news. A quadrivalent version of FluMist, the nasal spray flu vaccine, will be available for the next flu season.  A quadrivalent flu vaccine will target four strains of flu virus, offering better protection than the current trivalent vaccines, which just protect against three.

A quadrivalent flu vaccine would have been welcomed during our current bad flu season, when one influenza B strain isn't covered by this year's seasonal flu vaccine. Fortunately, that influenza B strain, from the B/Victoria lineage of viruses, has only made up about 6% of flu viruses strains that the CDC has tested. The others are all in this year's flu vaccine, which makes it a pretty good match.

Of course, they would still need to pick the correct strains to include in the quadrivalent flu vaccine to get an even better match than the trivalent flu vaccines that we have been using for years. A universal flu vaccine that doesn't depend on specific flu virus strains and doesn't change from year to year would be much better.

Unfortunately, we are still about 5 to 10 years away from a universal flu vaccine. While we wait, new seasonal flu vaccines will hopefully get better. Flublok could be one of them.

Instead of using inactivated or attenuated flu viruses, a new seasonal flu vaccine, Flublok simply uses the hemagglutinin (HA) protein from the flu virus to trigger protection. It isn't made in eggs either, which will be welcome news to anyone with an egg allergy who hasn't been able to get a flu vaccine, even with the new recommendations about egg allergies and flu shots. Flublok isn't approved for children and teens under age 18 years though.

Flublok isn't a universal flu vaccine and was only found to be about 44.6 percent effective against all flu virus strains. How effective is it against strains that are in the vaccine? Unfortunately, few people in the study, whether they got the vaccine or placebo, actually got sick with the flu vaccine strains of flu during the years the vaccine was studied.

What does all of this flu vaccine news mean for you? Hopefully it will translate into better flu vaccines that will protect all of us from this deadly disease.

Related:
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CDC statement on narcolepsy following Pandemrix influenza vaccination in Europe
Flu Vaccine Options
Flu Shot Recommendations
Influenza - What is the Flu?

Comments
February 5, 2013 at 11:42 am
(1) Cassa says:

What is intriguing re the study about flu shots in pregnant women, is what it doesn’t say. Saying a shot “doesn’t cause more fetal deaths” is a fairly luke warm statement; and apparently it “may” (or may not, one assumes ) decrease fetal deaths. Does it increase the chance of a baby being born with a disability?
That would perhaps have been useful to study.

Other studies have shown that what the flu shot does do is increase CRP levels on day one and three.
And in another new and unrelated study; elevated levels of maternal CRP (C-Reactive protien) are associated with an increased risk of autism.

Also in the news recently ( Daily Mail online) are two new cases where children with autism have been compensated for vaccine injury.One of the children,( from one of the articles) is described as needing lifelong care and having a mental age of two.
It does make one wonder what the IOM’s apparently delightfully broad definition of “safe” actually is..
I do appreciate that this article actually mentioned a potential side effect, and looked at the fact that in some cases there may be a risk/benefit ratio to consider.

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