Math can improve flu vaccine, Baker Institute experts say

Rice University News & Media

David Ruth713-348-6327david@rice.edu
Jeff Falk713-348-6775jfalk@rice.edu
Math can improve flu vaccine, Baker Institute experts say
HOUSTON – (Nov. 8, 2018) – Mathematical modeling can improve the flu vaccine’s effectiveness, according to experts at Rice University — where one such model has existed for more than 15 years — and its Baker Institute for Public Policy.
Credit: 123RF.com/Rice University
Michael Deem, the John W. Cox Professor of Biochemical and Genetic Engineering at Rice; Melia Bonomo, a Ph.D. candidate in physics and astronomy at the university; and Kirstin Matthews, a fellow in science and technology policy in the Center for Health and Biosciences at the Baker Institute, outlined their insights in a new policy brief, “Improving the Effectiveness of the Annual Flu Vaccine.”
Seasonal influenza (flu) causes as many as 49 million illnesses and 79,000 deaths in the United States annually since 2010. To combat its impact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all healthy children and adults obtain a flu vaccination every year. In 2017-18, 58 percent of healthy children (6 months to 17 years old) and only 37 percent of adults obtained the vaccine. Approximately 80 percent of pediatric deaths from influenza during that season were children who were unvaccinated.
“To develop a vaccine in time for the beginning of flu season in the fall, scientists must start in early January,” the authors wrote. “The current method that the CDC uses involves scientists vaccinating ferrets with several vaccine candidates. They then extract the antibodies from the ferrets to estimate which vaccine was the most effective against the dominant viruses from the previous flu season. This method has been used for almost 50 years. However, it has been proven to be inconsistent in predicting how well the vaccines would perform in humans, especially with the recent, rapidly mutating A(H3N2) viruses. Additionally, experiments with ferrets are time-consuming and costly.”
By contrast, …

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