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Fighting the anti-vaccine movement with enhanced technology

Adam Pett, Senior Account Director in our Pharma team, explains how new vaccine developments will highlight how vital they are for our health.

When a prime minister in the middle of a constitutional crisis shifts his focus to launch a campaign to stop the spread of misleading anti-vaccination information, as Boris Johnson did in August 2019, we ought to sit up and take note.

Choosing not to vaccinate is impacting the health of the nation. Britain has lost its “measles-free” status with the World Health Organization (WHO), just two years after the virus was eliminated.

The prime minister’s approach is to provide new evidence-based advice to address parents’ concerns about vaccinations, and encourage social media platforms to restrict the dissemination of anti-vaccination messages.

But pharma companies have a role to play too. They can challenge the rhetoric of the anti-vaxxers not just through education but by taking action – developing more vaccines that really do work.

Some of the most important vaccinations that exist are those that tackle seasonal influenza. According to the WHO, each year annual flu epidemics are estimated to result in about three to five million cases of severe illness globally, and about 290,000 to 650,000 respiratory deaths.

Fortunately, pharmaceutical companies, like Seqirus, are investing in research to create new enhanced vaccines that can overcome potential factors that impact influenza vaccine effectiveness.

One factor is ‘immunosenescence’ which is the word to describe declining immune function in the elderly. A specific ingredient called an adjuvant is now added to vaccines for the elderly to enhance their immune response to vaccination.

Another issue is egg adaptation – flu vaccines have traditionally been grown in eggs which can cause the virus composition to change and adapt to the egg environment. However, new technology involves growing the virus in cell cultures which removes the process where egg-adapted changes occur. This can produce vaccine viruses that are more similar to the viruses in circulation.

The use of enhanced vaccines already appears to be paying off – Public Health England’s latest flu effectiveness report found that adjuvanted flu vaccinations were estimated to have provided approximately 62 per cent protection against the flu strains circulating during 2018/19 flu season in adults 65 years and over.

This compares favourably to 10.1 per cent protection achieved the previous season before adjuvanted vaccines were available.

By continuing to progress vaccine technology and shouting about it, we can help educate the wider public on the vital role vaccines play in keeping the nation healthy.

is a Senior Account Director for the Pharma team