Scientists Launch a Flock of Flu, Bird Flu Vaccine Studies

September 28, 2005

Flu shots that hurt less, an adequate supply of flu vaccine, and protection against bird flu – those are among the goals of several studies being carried out this fall by vaccine experts at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

University nurses and doctors were asked to perform the studies by Federal and industry officials who are concerned both about a potential pandemic of bird flu, as well as the effects of a typical flu season that on average kills approximately 36,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In one study doctors and nurses at the Medical Center’s Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit (VTEU) are planning to test a flu vaccine that is used in Canada but not the United States. If the vaccine is shown to be effective and is approved for use, its availability would add depth to the nation’s stockpile of flu vaccine and help prevent a shortage like the one that occurred last year.

The study is a lot like last year’s national study headed by John Treanor, M.D., professor of medicine and director of the VTEU. In that study, which included about 956 people, including 278 in Rochester, a vaccine that had been used for years in other parts of the world was shown to be safe and effective in the United States also. Based on the results, the vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, was approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration this summer for use in the United States.

In another study, Treanor and colleagues are testing another type of flu shot that hurts a lot less than the traditional shot. The experimental vaccine is given by gently scratching the skin, not jabbing a needle deeply into muscle as is done now. In previous studies the team has shown that less vaccine is needed when it is administered through the skin, a method that would help stretch the vaccine if supplies were scarce.

Finally, the team is continuing its studies of bird-flu vaccine. Earlier this year Treanor led a national study of 450 healthy people testing a vaccine against the most virulent form of bird flu; results of that study should be announced within a few months. Now the team is embarking on three additional studies, looking at the vaccine in people older than 65; checking how young people respond to a third dose of the vaccine; and measuring the effects of an additional dose on people who were first immunized seven years ago.

The studies are being funded largely by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.

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