The influenza and the pneumococcal infections are two of the world’s most deadly respiratory diseases and while many people protect themselves with separate vaccines, Australian researchers have now developed a vaccination that can simultaneously combat both with a single jab.
June to September is peak flu season in Australia, while the contagious pneumococcal disease is caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae and is particularly harmful for over-65s and people with diabetes, lung disease, kidney disease, heart disease, liver disease and cancer.
New research published in the Nature Microbiology Journal found that a new Influenza A virus vaccine can protect against different influenza strains when it is co-administrated with a new class of pneumococcal vaccine. Researchers believe the increased immunity is due to a direct physical interaction between the virus and the bacterium.
Current influenza vaccines work by targeting surface molecules that are affected by mutations but annual updates are required to match newly emerging viruses. Meanwhile, pneumococcal vaccines provide longer lasting protection, but only protect against some disease-causing strains.
Researchers say there needs to be better vaccines that can provide universal protection, as lead researcher Mohammed Alsharifi said in a statement: “Influenza infection predisposes patients to severe pneumococcal pneumonia, with very high mortality rates. Despite this well-known synergism, current vaccination strategies target the individual pathogens.
We’re investigating combining our novel influenza and pneumococcal vaccines into a single vaccination approach and have demonstrated a highly significant enhancement of immune responses against diverse subtypes of influenza.”
The research team previously saw success in co-administering their pneumococcal vaccine with the flu vaccine and believe mixing viral and bacterial vaccines in a single injection can increase immunity and further protect against diseases.
“Influenza virus and pneumococcus worked together to cause up to 100 million deaths during the great ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic of 1918-1919,” researcher James Paton said. “A century later, we have shown analogous, but this time highly protective, synergy with our novel vaccination strategy that targets both pathogens simultaneously.”
Commercial development of the new class of vaccines is currently being undertaken by two University of Adelaide-associated biotech companies.
In the meantime, over-65s are currently eligible for a free enhanced influenza vaccine under the National Immunisation Program (NIP). Other people are eligible for the vaccine at a small cost and should discuss the best option with their GP or health professional. The 2019 flu season has already turned deadly, with experts warning this year could be worse than 2018, when 1,100 people died from influenza.
The pneumococcal vaccine, Pneumovax 23, protects against 23 strains of pneumococcal disease and is also given to over-65s for free as a single jab. It covers a range of illnesses including mild infections, ear infections, pneumonia, meningitis and other serious health issues.
Always talk to a GP or health professional about the best options for you.
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