New Vaccine May Destroy Flu Permanently
It's been more than 50 years since Jonas Salk created the first polio vaccine; thanks to his discovery, and Albert Sabin's a few years later, just a handful of polio cases are reported each year. But fifty years is a long time to wait for another watershed vaccine, so I checked my crystal ball to see what inventions were in progress in the biomedical field.
And what I saw was the eradication of... No, this can't be... Eradication of the flu! Not only the flu, but all strains of flu... and colds! And the vaccine is not too far off.
Dr. E. John Wherry is one of several biologists around the world who are working on promising permanent flu vaccines. Dr. Wherry and his team at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia are funded by a $10 million federal anti-bioterrorism grant and they are particularly eager, what with the threat of biological warfare looming, to get the vaccine ready -- a time still five to ten years out.
Dr. Wherry's methodology is to create super-strong T-cells, specific white cells in the thymus gland, that are particularly effective in attacking foreign cells. Wherry's part-live/part-dead flu vaccine (Sabin's method) has been successfully tested in mice. When the vaccine is given, the highly reproductive disease-fighting T-cells in the mice "memorize" the foreign virus and instinctively interpret newly introduced similar viruses as cells to be killed.
If Wherry does complete his human vaccine tests successfully, expectation is that the common cold, seasonal flu strains, and pandemic flus will no longer infect us. Not only that, but we will be immune to unknown destructive strains that bioterrorists may put together.
Current commonly administered flu vaccines are either seasonal -- made from viruses that are expected to be prevalent in a given year -- or they are targeted to prevent one type or another of pandemic flu, like Bird Flu or the Asian Flu. These vaccines are created from dead flu cells (Salk's method) of strains anticipated to be most virulent.
The seasonal vaccines are about 70 percent effective at keeping the flu at bay. Still, there are approximately 36,000 deaths from the flu each year, mostly among the elderly, whose cases of flu often lead to pneumonia. It is estimated that a pandemic flu, such as the Spanish Flu of 1918 - 1920 would cause the death of 62 million people world-wide today.
One basic problem with current vaccine efficacy is the time between development of the vaccine and the time the flu is most likely to hit. Seasonal vaccines are developed in the Spring and by Fall the viruses have mutated. The same mutation happens with pandemic flus, like the Spanish or Asian flus.
But the CDC recommends that people over 50, pregnant women, and children between the ages of 6 months to five years get the seasonal flu shot. In addition, anyone with a chronic illness of any kind should get the shot, as well as health-care workers and those who live in group homes.
There are persons who are strongly advised by the CDC not to get a flu vaccine (see Who Should Not Be Vaccinated ). And there is controversy over the flu vaccine from fields of natural medicine who contend that the toxins in the vaccine preservatives and carriers, like mercury and aluminum, are potentially more harmful than the flu.
Either way, we'll be counting the seasons until the next miracle vaccine rids us of the decision, the dread, and potential deaths a super-contagious flu can cause.