Flu vaccine in pill form on horizon

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A new safe and effective oral flu vaccine is on the horizon that is sure to be a real game-changer.

In fact, this week a new study from Stanford published in the prestigious journal Lancet shows that Vaxart’s oral tablet vaccine, which utilizes a non-spreading adenovirus to carry the flu protein, is just as effective at creating immunity and preventing the flu from a particular strain as the standard injection.

“This is an encouraging study of an influenza vaccine that allows for a potentially important alternative form of administration, in this case by oral tablet,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Fox News. “The results from the challenge study are encouraging. It will be important to determine how the vaccine performs with natural infection in the community.”

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“This study is a significant step towards an oral flu vaccine making it to market,” David R. McIlwain, a senior research scientist at Stanford University who worked on the study, said. “The availability of an oral flu vaccine would be a major breakthrough not only because of the obvious comfort of avoiding a needle prick but because an oral tablet vaccine would be easier and faster to distribute and administer than an injectable vaccine, which could have a major impact on improving global vaccination rates.”

Many kids hate or are afraid shots, and according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), close to 40 percent of those below the age of 17 still don’t receive a yearly flu shot. And a recent Michigan study found that half of the parents of toddler and preschool-aged children say their kids are afraid of going to the doctor, with fear of shots being the reason two-thirds of the time.

At the same time, children are super-spreaders of the flu, especially at schools, which are like Petri dishes as children sit close together, frequently touch each other, sneeze and cough freely without covering their noses and mouths and wipe their hands on common surfaces.

And the problem is not just confined to children. Overall, fewer than half of Americans take a flu vaccine. Reasons for this non-compliance, in addition to the fear of injections, are the myth that flu vaccine can give you the flu or cause autism, worry over a history of egg allergies, the inconvenience of having to schedule a shot, or simply a sore arm from the shot itself.

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The oral flu vaccine is still at least five years away from market, according to Sean Tucker, chief science officer at Vaxart. Tucker told Fox News in an email that research is also ongoing in animals to make the upcoming universal flu vaccine (which targets the “stalk” of the flu hemagglutinin protein) available in pill form. He also pointed out that the new oral vaccine may be able to fight influenza locally in the tissues by an additional mechanism to create antibodies that the flu shot doesn’t provide.

Tucker stated several compliance advantages of an oral flu vaccine.

“Especially for working adults, which is the largest unvaccinated segment,” he said. “It’s really hard to get busy working adults to go somewhere to get a flu vaccine. Because tablets don’t need the same cold chain and medically trained personal to administer, tablet vaccine campaigns could come to places of work and be handed out en masse. In the future, it’s possible that tablets could be sent by mail or Amazon drone. This can’t be done with a needle-based vaccine.”

Tucker pointed out that tablets could be particularly useful during an influenza pandemic when the ability to respond quickly is crucial.

“First, there’s not enough extra needles in the world to administer a pandemic vaccine,” he said. “Needle manufacturing might be rate-limiting. Second, people don’t need to line up to get a shot at a clinic. This is a problem because lining up exposes everyone to the pandemic virus and takes a long time to implement. With an oral vaccine solution, social distancing could be implemented because the vaccine could be sent by mail and provided all at once.”

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When it comes to kids, an oral vaccine has many advantages, including overcoming fear of needles. For younger kids, there is already a very full immunization schedule.

“An oral vaccine doesn’t need to fit into the immunization schedule, and can be given at the same time as a shot (without another band-aid) or given at a different time, maybe even sent home with the parents (as a slurry),” Tucker noted.

Flu season is surging, with over 13 million cases nationwide, over 120,000 hospitalizations, and over 6,000 deaths, according to the CDC.

The new flu prevention pill will go a long way to improve compliance by overcoming fears as well as inconvenience. When it is coupled with an emerging universal flu vaccine, millions of lives will be saved in the U.S. and around the world.

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