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July 2020

EU approves new flu vaccine

The first adjuvanted flu vaccine to offer protection against four strains of influenza has been approved by the European Commission, but it won’t be available in time for the 2020-21 flu season.

The new adjuvanted quadrivalent influenza vaccine (aQIV) is designed to protect the over 65s against two A strains and two B strains of the influenza virus, and contains an additive to boost the immune response in older adults.

It uses the same technology as the adjuvanted trivalent vaccine (aTIV), the main vaccine used for the over 65s in 2018-19, which a Public Health England analysis found to offer 62% effectiveness in people of this age group, who generally have a reduced immune response compared with the 18-64 age group.

Adding the second B strain to the new vaccine can provide additional coverage, particularly in flu seasons where B strains are more dominant, such as 2017-18. In that season, nearly half of all deaths from flu in intensive care units were due to B strain viruses.

Having an effective flu vaccine is seen as vital as the coronavirus pandemic continues to help avoid the ‘double whammy’ on the NHS of a severe flu outbreak coinciding with a future wave of COVID-19 infections. However, before aQIV can be brought into use in the UK, it needs to be recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and the price agreed with the Department of Health and Social Care.

Dr Raja Rajaram, Head of Medical Affairs, Europe of the aQIV manufacturer Seqirus, said: ‘In these times, even more than in most, it’s important to have age appropriate vaccines’ – currently aTIV – ‘to help protect against influenza. We know that people who get vaccinated are less likely to become ill with influenza. This will potentially help to keep pressure off health systems during continuing concern over COVID-19.’