Monday, August 24, 2020

Priming Vaccines to Function Better

 Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, History of Science --Edward Hessler

Vaccines work better when they are "primed" with a chemical to activate the immune system to make antibodies. This is what chemicals known as adjuvants do. From the Latin, the term means "to help."

The first adjuvant was alum (diptheria and tetanus vaccines) which was used for more than 70 years but according to the Wiki entry was replaced in commercial vaccines by aluminium hydroxide and aluminium phosphate. Adjuvants can cause side effects in some of us--redness, swelling, pain which is localized at the injection site.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) entry on adjuvants has a chart describing adjuvants in use in the United States which includes their chemical composition and the vaccines in which they are found.

In an essay at NPR, science reporter Joe Palca discusses adjuvants and the mechanisms involved in antibody production. He also discusses the need for more research with an eye to finding the best one for each vaccine. This attention, of course, has been brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

Palca writes,

But the strange thing is that there aren't a lot of adjuvants out there.

"'We only think about adjuvants when there's a dire need, such as this pandemic, for example,' says Bali Pulendran, a vaccine developer at Stanford University. 'Now everyone is interested in faster response and a better response and a longer-lasting response. 'This is a topic that needs, deserves better attention,' he says.

Some of you may have had an injection of the new, more effective shingles vaccine. My Doctor says it is almost 97% effectiveness compared to the problematic 50% effectiveness of the old vaccine. (I've yet to opt for one although I did experience shingles quite a few years ago.). She also said that some people experience unpleasant side effects for about a day--tiredness and soreness, particularly the former.  Palca describes the development of this vaccine, something I didn't know or ever think about. So much for the curious patient!

Palca refers to adjuvants as "the special sauces" but since one of the impediments to adjuvant research is proprietary (no surprise) it also made me think of them as "secret sauces." 

Palca also quotes Sallie Permar of Duke University that she thinks adjuvant research will open a new avenue of science and it "may not be far off." 

Three cheers for adjuvants AND adjuvant research!




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