Universal Flu Vaccine: Why It Matters for Mesothelioma Patients

Influenza vaccine

Researchers are one step closer to what many health experts call the holy grail of influenza prevention: A universal flu vaccine.

For mesothelioma patients, this will be an important medical advance. People with this cancer are among the groups most susceptible to the potentially deadly repercussions of catching the flu.

In fact, the CDC recommends the seasonal flu vaccine for people with:

  • Chronic pulmonary conditions (including asthma)

  • Cardiovascular disease (excluding isolated hypertension)

  • Renal (kidney) or hepatic (liver) problems

  • Neurologic, hematologic or metabolic disorders (including diabetes mellitus)

  • Immune compromise because of any cause (including medications or HIV infection)

Mesothelioma patients in active treatment fall into several of these groups. They have a disease affecting pulmonary function and may experience decreased immunity because of cancer therapy.

While the news of a universal flu vaccine is exciting, the shot is not quite ready for prime time. Ask your doctor if you should get the seasonal flu shot.

Getting vaccinated and encouraging family, caregivers and friends to do the same are the most important ways to protect against the deadly infection.

Until a universal influenza vaccine is proven safe and effective for widespread use, these are your next best options for fighting the flu.

What Is a Universal Flu Vaccine?

Unlike existing influenza vaccines, a universal flu shot would not need to be given every year to protect against future outbreaks. A single vaccination would protect against the infection for many years.

Currently, if you want to reduce your risk of catching influenza, you need to get vaccinated at the beginning of each flu season.

That’s because the vaccine only protects against the most common flu viruses circulating at any given time.

Those strains change from year to year, and the existing flu shot targets the portions of the virus that are most likely to change.

Even if you were vaccinated last year, it doesn’t mean your immune system recognizes this year’s flu viruses, which look different to the body.

A universal flu shot would allow people to acquire more permanent immunity against influenza, for several years into the future.

Phase 3 Clinical Trial Testing Universal Flu Vaccine

A phase 3 clinical trial testing a universal flu vaccine began in August 2018. The researchers hope to recruit 10,000 participants in Eastern Europe.

Half of the group will be monitored for one flu season. The other half will be followed for two seasons.

Vaccine studies typically consider only one season. The goal is to determine if a flu vaccine reduces the number of cases of the specific influenza strains it targeted.

This new trial will show whether the universal vaccine protects against infection by any viral type.

If it does protect against different types of influenza for more than a single season, this will be an important medical breakthrough, especially for mesothelioma patients who are at increased risk of serious complications from the infection.

Low Vaccination Rates Lead to More Deadly Flu Seasons

In the U.S., fewer than half of eligible people receive the flu vaccine. This can have serious public health consequences. It is particularly devastating for people with lung disease, including mesothelioma.

Underlying lung problems make the flu more deadly. These respiratory conditions also make it more likely a person will end up in the hospital after influenza.

For the 2017-2018 season, just 37 percent of eligible adults received the flu vaccine. This is the lowest vaccination rate in a decade, more than 6 percent lower than the year before.

Low vaccination rates yielded a particularly deadly round of influenza. The CDC estimates up to 79,000 Americans died because of the flu in 2017 and 2018. Around 50,000 flu-related deaths occur in a typical year.

Flu Vaccination Facts and Myths

Seasonal flu shots typically are free for anyone with health insurance.

Many workplace wellness programs offer the shot to employees free of charge, and many pharmacies offer the shot for a small fee of around $20.

Given how important it is to prevent the spread of influenza, and the ready availability of the shot, it may seem shocking so few people take advantage of it.

Common vaccination myths prevent many health-conscious people from protecting themselves and their loved ones with a season flu shot.

Myth: The vaccination will give me the flu.
Fact: You cannot get the flu from the vaccination. It takes several weeks after being vaccinated to develop full immunity. If you’ve received the shot and gotten sick, you were exposed to the virus shortly before or after vaccination. This made it seem as if the shot made you sick, but it didn’t.

Myth: When the vaccine is a bad match to circulating flu strains, it’s not worth getting the shot.
Fact: Even if the strains included in the vaccination do not match up with the virus types making people sick, you still get benefit from the shot. If you’ve had the vaccine and get the flu anyway, you won’t get as sick, and you’re not as likely to land in the hospital.

Myth: I read the vaccine is only 40 percent effective, so it’s not going to help me anyway.
Fact: Early reports on vaccine efficacy can be wrong. In the 2017-2018 season, for example, the vaccine turned out to be more effective than originally reported. It was especially effective — 59 percent — in young children, one of the groups most vulnerable to influenza-related deaths.

Myth: I got the vaccine once and got the flu anyway. Why bother?
Fact: Along with protecting against severe illness and hospitalization, the flu vaccine diminishes risk of heart and vascular problems. In susceptible adults, the inflammation accompanying the flu can trigger a heart attack or stroke. The vaccine can protect against these events, even if a person does get the flu.

Myth: I’m young and healthy, so I don’t need to bother.
Fact: Vaccinated healthy adults not only protect themselves against flu, they protect more vulnerable people. If you have mesothelioma, one of the best ways to avoid the flu and its deadly consequences is to ask relatives, friends, family members and anyone you come into contact with to get vaccinated.

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Oncology Medical Writer

Suzanne Dixon is a registered dietitian, epidemiologist and experienced medical writer. She has volunteered with the National Cancer Policy Forum, Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group, American Institute for Cancer Research, American Society for Clinical Oncology, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The New York Times and Time Magazine also have reviewed her cancer patient resources.

5 Cited Article Sources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, September 5). Seasonal Influenza. 2018 – 2019 Summary of Recommendations.
    Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/acip/2018-2019/2018-19summary.htm
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, October 25). Estimates of Influenza Vaccination Coverage among Adults—United States, 2017–18 Flu Season
    Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/coverage-1718estimates.htm
  3. Clinicaltrials.gov. (n.d.). A Pivotal Trial to Assess the Safety and Clinical Efficacy of the M-001 as a Standalone Universal Flu Vaccine.
    Retrieved from: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03450915
  4. Clinicaltrials.gov. (n.d.). Phase II Study to Assess Safety & Immunogenicity of Multimeric-001 Influenza Vaccine, Followed by TIV (BVX006).
    Retrieved from: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02293317
  5. Taylor, A.P. (2018, November 12). First Universal Flu Vaccine to Enter Phase 3 Trial. Retrieved from: https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/first-universal-flu-vaccine-to-enter-phase-3-trial-65073

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