Written by By Sarah Laskow, CNN
The most recent edition of “Journal of Infectious Diseases” offers food for thought as we head into the new year.
In a new study published last week, researchers from University of California, San Francisco looked at the effectiveness of most common vaccines used to protect against many infections in a healthy population. The study, led by Sarah M. Corso, MD, PhD, is being hailed as the first-ever to determine the impact of vaccines on immune function at a population level.
The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends three vaccines: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTaP) and polio; the World Health Organization recommends two: measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR+).
Six vaccines were examined — three combined, and three ones that targeted cancer immunoglobulin (CAR) cell lines or multiple types of virus. (CARs are made up of whole viruses, antibody or cell. These cells are used in vaccination to stimulate an immune response. This process occurs through the immune response called antibody mediated by an antigen.)
Researchers studied what they call “viral-cell lines” (VB-cells or CD4+ T cells) in genetically diverse groups of healthy people. They measured their function and whether a vaccine had an immune impact.
Unlike other viral or bacterial vaccines, the authors wrote, the current vaccines reduce the ability of viruses to penetrate the skin, and do not become resistant to immunization. These two hallmarks — immunitization and action — are essential to the goal of reducing the spread of diseases.
In the study, researchers found some vaccines had fewer protective effects than they had hoped. One in particular, Tdap (Tdap — tetanus toxoid vaccine) produced “lower immune-response levels and reduced activity than a placebo.” This particular vaccine, the authors wrote, “conversely had broad and wide activity compared to a placebo.”
Although some vaccines, including MMR, work best when given at four or six months of age, others have previously shown increased effectiveness at one year of age. “These findings suggest that vaccine regimen should be adapted to optimize vaccine effectiveness at less than one year of age,” the authors wrote.
One in three deaths in the US each year can be traced to unknown causes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even with treatments for many viral and bacterial infections, such as antiviral and antibiotics, many patients will still die as a result of these illnesses.
Many infectious diseases can be prevented with basic vaccines — at least when they are given at the first sign of a sickness, if not earlier. The study suggests that manufacturers should provide the most effective vaccines at the earliest time when it would make a difference.
This study raises a lot of questions for more to follow. Do changes in the vaccine schedule occur after finding vaccine efficacy is lower than expected?
This study is one of the first to demonstrate the level of immunological impact the three most commonly recommended vaccines had on diverse groups of healthy people at the individual, population level. There are many unknowns about vaccination, but the paper suggests more analysis and findings will guide vaccine policy and recommendations for Americans, world-wide.
But, the study also proves, once again, that vaccines are not that uncommon, and may even seem effective and convenient enough to be used on a mass scale. “Since a vaccine is only proven effective by scientific investigation and a large, population-based trial, only vaccines that are effective will appear in routine vaccination schedules,” Corso writes.
Let’s hope this type of study will soon become standard for vaccines across the board.
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