How Technology Used to Make COVID-19 Vaccines Could Improve Flu Vaccines


The dose21:56What are the latest flu shots?

Some experts fear this year’s flu season may be severe, especially with the pandemic still raging in many parts of Canada. Dr. Brian Goldman speaks with Dr. Susy Hota, medical director of infection prevention and control at the University Health Network in Toronto, about the latest developments in influenza vaccines. 21:56

With the flu season quickly approaching, people who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 or who are eligible for a third dose can be safely vaccinated to protect them against both diseases during the same visit, according to health experts.

They predict that in the future, by applying the latest advances in mRNA technology, it may be possible to vaccinate a person against COVID-19 and seasonal influenza with a single vaccine.

This is because vaccine developers have been working on influenza vaccine development using mRNA technology, the type used in Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, since before the pandemic, said Susy Hota, medical director of infection prevention and control at University of Health. Network in Toronto.

Several are already at the clinical trial stage.

No combined COVID-19 and influenza vaccine is this advanced.

Hota says it would be incredibly convenient to take advantage of mRNA technology to better protect people from the flu.

“What the future has in store for us is to have a single combined vaccine that treats multiple infections circulating at the same time. So it could be COVID 19 and the flu,” she told Dr Brian Goldman, host of CBC Radio. The dose Podcast.

“We are not there yet. But wouldn’t it be nice to come for your only injection of the respiratory virus that will cover you for this season? ”

People got the flu shot in Calgary last October. Vaccines are available at pharmacies and primary care offices. (Leah Hennel / Alberta Health Services)

Influenza viruses frequently mutate as they circulate around the world, Hota said. By the time scientists see which strains are taking off in the southern hemisphere and predict what to put in flu shots for people in the northern hemisphere, there could be some mismatches.

On average, flu shots are about 40 to 60 percent effective in protecting you against infection, Hota said.

Because people infected with the flu are at a higher risk of heart attacks and other heart problems than the general population, the flu shot saves lives, she said.

“If we saw too many COVID-19 and influenza patients arriving at our hospitals, it could cripple the system,” she said.

Speed ​​is key to beating the flu

Vaccine makers are trying to catch up with the mutating virus so the contents of their vials better match the flu strains we might encounter from others who cough or maybe speak a little too closely.

This is where mRNA technology comes in. Experts say they could perhaps observe influenza activity around the world for a longer period of time, then take advantage of the speed of mRNA vaccine manufacturing to add circulating influenza strains to the vaccines in time for better. protect the public.

Dr Susy Hota says getting two injections at the same time to protect against COVID-19 and the flu is worth it. (Craig Chivers / CBC)

Scott Halperin, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, leads clinical trials for influenza and other vaccines at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology in Halifax.

He says mRNA technology could likely speed up the manufacture of influenza vaccines compared to the time-consuming approach of growing the virus in chicken eggs that is used today.

At least three companies say they have started phase 1 human safety trials of mRNA influenza vaccines only to see if side effects mirror those of conventional influenza vaccines, such as a sore arm or fever.

To potentially combine protection against COVID-19 and influenza in one fell swoop, researchers must first test that mRNA technology can be safely and effectively applied to influenza viruses.

New technology provides better immunity

Moderna and Pfizer’s mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 include the genetic instructions to make a modified spike protein from the virus. After the vaccine is injected into the body, human cells use the instructions to make copies of the spike protein for the immune system to learn to recognize.

WATCH | Recommended flu shots in the midst of wave 4 of COVID:

Doctors call for flu shot to avoid further pressure on healthcare

Canadians are urged to get the flu shot as soon as possible because doctors expect the flu season to be much worse than last year when there were very few cases. They want to avoid additional pressure on the healthcare system already struggling with COVID-19. 3:30 p.m.

For the three seasonal mRNA influenza vaccines currently in clinical trials, companies must show that combining influenza strains in this way does not decrease the effectiveness of the immune response before regulatory agencies like Health Canada consider approval.

Alyson Kelvin, a scientist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) at the University of Saskatchewan, has spent years studying different influenza vaccines and is also working on COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

“It looks like we have this nice, broader immunity through mRNA vaccine technology,” Kelvin said. “Could you target more than one strain of influenza at a time? “

Even if the answer is yes, Kelvin said, it’s a leap from using a spike protein from SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, to also covering four circulating influenza virus strains, as do current influenza vaccines. , in just one time.

“It’s exciting, but I think we really need to finish the investigation,” Kelvin said. All-in-one influenza and COVID-19 vaccination studies have not reached clinical trials in humans, which normally take years.

Researchers recognize that better strategies are needed to vaccinate against influenza in order to elicit more protective responses, she said.

Until then, public health officials hope people will continue to wear face masks when necessary and wash their hands to protect against all the pathogens that make people of all ages sick during respiratory virus season. .

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