Stanford researchers test new vaccine additive

September 17, 2009 6:38:40 PM PDT
On Thursday, President Barack Obama said the U.S. will give away 10 percent of its H1N1 flu vaccine to other countries to prevent a global outbreak -- that's roughly 4.5 million doses. Researchers at Stanford are testing an additive, hoping to stretch the supply.

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Of the 45 million doses to be available next month, the government has specified that first priority will go to pregnant women, people who care for infants, health care workers and people between six months and age 24. So, Stanford researchers are starting a major study on an H1N1 vaccine additive called an adjuvant.

"It does kick start the immune system and it can sometimes improve not only the amount of the response but sometimes the quality of the response and sometimes how long you're protected," says pediatric immunologist Dr. David Lewis, MD, from Packard Children's Hospital.

Because of those benefits, Lewis says an adjuvant could allow the vaccine dosage to be lowered, making more vaccine available.

"In order to figure out exactly how much you can stretch it, you have to study it, so you can't guess. You actually need to do an actual study to see what happens as you reduce the antigen dose," says Dr. Lewis.

130 people have volunteered for the Stanford trial, which is expected to run for 13 months. However, early results could address concerns of a vaccine shortage. The president's decision to share vaccine to other countries puts a strain on supplies in this country.

However, a biotech and health care ethicist at Santa Clara University's Markkula Center, Margaret McLean, Ph.D., considers it the right thing to do.

"There's a reciprocal obligation here that we have that says the world has a possible health crisis, possible economic crisis, created by H1N1 and a possible social crisis," says McLean.

Adjuvants have been tested with more than 12,000 patients in Europe. However, this will be the first time an adjuvant will be tested in conjunction with an H1N1 vaccine.

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