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Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Provides Priming for A/H1N1 Immunization

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Science Translational Medicine  23 Dec 2009:
Vol. 1, Issue 12, pp. 12re1
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3000564

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Editor's Summary

Combating an ongoing epidemic is an inexact science, and our current campaign against the 2009 H1N1 is no exception. Under extreme time pressure and with many unverified assumptions, industrial and public health officials have made their best guess about the appropriate vaccine formulation and dosage so that it can be manufactured in time to give to the public. As is often the case, there is no opportunity to do an informative clinical trial to see whether the vaccine is effective against the circulating virus. Del Giudice et al. now report the next best thing—a test in animals. In this case, ferrets given the virus by researchers serve as an informative surrogate for people exposed to the ongoing H1N1 pandemic.

The authors found that ferrets vaccinated against the seasonal flu a month before they received a vaccine against H1N1 (identical to one given to some human populations) were better protected when they were later exposed to H1N1. Ferrets that had received only the H1N1 vaccine, but not one for seasonal flu, came down with H1N1 more readily. It is not exactly clear how the seasonal flu vaccine boosts the later anti-H1N1 response because the ferrets receiving this prior vaccine are not immune to H1N1 per se. Nevertheless, this is good news for control of the pandemic, as it suggests that the many recipients of the seasonal flu vaccine may be better protected when they also get the H1N1 vaccine.

An adjuvant (a substance administered along with the protein portions of the vaccine) consisting of oil in water is in some of the H1N1 vaccine doses in Europe. Del Giudice et al. also show that this adjuvant heightens the immune response to the vaccine, so that the strongest and most complete protection against exposure to H1N1 virus was in ferrets that had received seasonal flu vaccine in the oil-in-water adjuvant followed 4 weeks later by the H1N1 vaccine, also in the oil-in-water adjuvant.

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