Keipp Talbot, MD, MPH: The State of Flu Vaccine Research


The expert explains what recent vaccine innovations may come to influenza products.

As US influenza cases begin to steadily climb in the early days of 2022, health authorities are stressing the vitality and availability of flu vaccines for eligible individuals—“it’s not too late,” as the most recent flu surveillance report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) read last week.

It’s also good timing to consider the current research and development of flu vaccines, a product class which has been long associated with challenges in keeping up with an ever-evolving circulation of differing strains and differing cases of efficacy in those who get the shot.

In an interview with HCPLive, Keipp Talbot, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University, discussed how the prospect of flu vaccine innovation was sparked by the emergence of avian influenza in the early 2000s—and is still inspired by response to infectious diseases today.

Talbot discussed the impressive efficacy of the Shingrix vaccine for shingles, an adjuvant vaccine that raised standards for prevention in its field. She also said the emergence of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines for COVID-19 makes them “absolutely” potential candidates for flu prevention.

“It’s always kind of a race for us to figure out what might circulate and will that grow,” she explained. “Messenger RNA gives us more time because we don’t have to grow (vaccines) in eggs, but we still have to make a really good, educated guess.”

That said, innovations have already come for flu prevention: the older technology used in the fields’ vaccines has nonetheless been used to design, research, and implement products that provide varying greater doses and adjuvants for older and/or immunocompromised patients—those who face the greatest risk of severe flu.

“We’re finally beginning to look at vaccines for older adults with aging immune systems, and there have been a few home runs in that area,” Talbot said. “We’re really looking forward to moving that needle forward, getting some new technology, and figuring out the best way to teach your body how to fight flu.”

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