Flu Vaccines: Best Supporting Actor?

Date: January 6, 2020 By:

Galit Alter has published a new study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation entitled “Selective induction of antibody effector functional responses using MF59-adjuvanted vaccination.” This study is taking a new approach to determining flu vaccine efficacy, examining not the antigen, a piece of flu virus that is the main component of the vaccine, but the supporting cast: the adjuvant, used in the vaccine to increase overall immune response to the antigen.


The flu vaccine is a challenging vaccine for many reasons: not only do the flu viral strains mutate quickly, it’s difficult to elicit a strong immune response to the vaccine. Children and elderly adults, who are at higher risk for serious complications from the flu, tend to have a weaker response to the flu vaccine and may not develop sufficient immunity even after vaccination.


In order to increase immune response, adjuvants like MF59 or aluminum are added to vaccines. MF59 is commonly used in European flu vaccines. Adjuvants induce a stronger overall immune response to the vaccine, resulting in increased protection. However, until now, adjuvant response in flu vaccines has only been studied as overall immune response, instead of looking at the effect on individual components like ADCC. The individual components, however, play a major role in the efficacy of the immune response. Antibody dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) – a component of the immune response – is key for an effective flu response. A higher ADCC response means more protection from the flu virus.


Alter uses her systems serology approach to take an in-depth, comprehensive look at MF59’s effect on the immune system, studying how different adjuvants affect various components of the immune response. Alter profiled the immune response to flu shots with MF59, aluminum, or no adjuvant in healthy adults over a period of seven months. Surprisingly, the use of MF59 in the flu vaccine did not increase the ADCC response, though it increased response in every other immune component measured, indicating it’s a poor choice for a flu vaccine adjuvant.


Studies like this, which break down vaccines currently in use, can not only help us understand why and how they are effective, or only partially effective, but can also give us the information needed to design better vaccines in the future. Alter’s systems serology allows us to profile the immune system in a comprehensive and systematic way, allowing for insight into how exactly it responds to challenges, and what we can do to manipulate that response into better therapies and more effective vaccines.

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