Tweaking flu vaccine may make it more effective

Outbreaks of swine and avian flu worry public-health officials. Having an inexpensive vaccine in plentiful supply is key to controlling an outbreak of these potentially dangerous influenza strains.

Researchers on Wednesday reported progress in a different type of flu vaccine that could help meet demand in the case of a pandemic. The scientists, a consortium led by several U.S. government agencies and Novartis, used an oil-in-water adjuvant, called MF59, to produce a flu vaccine. An adjuvant is a substance that is used to boost the effectiveness of the vaccine.

The vaccine using MF59 produced greater effectiveness in the human immune response -- meaning it protected people better. And best of all, the amount of flu antigen, the piece of the virus that is used to produce the immune response, was decreased compared with the amount needed in a typical flu vaccine. Any decrease in the amount of antigen needed could speed up production and lower cost.

An editor’s summary accompanies the study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, and sums up the significance of the advance:


“Because flu vaccine production begins months before the flu season, vaccine producers and world health officials have to guess which strains will predominate in a coming year. Although they’re frequently right, sometimes a dark horse arises that wasn’t predicted, and vaccine makers have to play catch-up.”

The oil-in-water adjuvant could “give vaccine makers the edge in a game of catch-up with dark horses.”

Related: Last year’s flu vaccine: All in all, not so bad

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