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BSI response to study on benefits of universal flu vaccines

16 December 2016

Swine flu virus. Credit: NIAIDA paper published today in PLOS Computational Biology has reported on the benefits that could be gained through developing a universal vaccine against the influenza virus. Using mathematical modelling, the authors discuss the potential population-level benefits that a universal vaccine would offer over conventional seasonal vaccines.  In response to this report, the BSI has issued the following statement:

Professor Peter Openshaw, President of the British Society for Immunology and Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London, said:

“This is an interesting theoretical paper using mathematical modelling to predict the possible effects of influenza vaccines that have not yet been developed on the circulation and evolution of flu viruses. Immunologists are working on vaccines that don’t need to be reformulated each year: ‘universal vaccines’ that induce broad immunity, protecting against current and future strains of flu by mechanisms that are not just dependent on antibody.

“The authors reach the interesting conclusion that it might be possible for vaccines with certain profiles to affect the transmission and evolution of influenza viruses and that, theoretically, universal vaccines could control influenza epidemics while slowing the rate of viral evolution. By contrast, current vaccines that need to be changed each year could actually promote the speed of viral evolution.

“However, it’s important to say that the authors make a lot of assumptions. One is that there is no interaction between antibody-mediated immunity and T cell immunity (which we know is an oversimplification), and that the future universal vaccines do not actually protect against infection (this does seem a rather radical assumption). They also assume that current strain-matched vaccines illicit no cross protective immunity.

“So, this is an interesting but theoretical analysis based on speculation on what future influenza vaccines might do. We will need to see what does happen in practice when universal flu vaccines do become available.”

 

The full paper that this comment is response to can be found at: Subramanian et al. PLOS Computational Biology doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005204

 

Image credit: NIAID/Flickr