Cambridge Research Biochemicals News and Blog

Latest news

27 Nov 2012

Flu Shots: Immunology for All

It’s Flu shot season and, if you read social media or chat boards, you’ve likely seen discussion about the risks and benefits of getting a flu shot.   Looking at the issue from the foundations of raising antibodies, I’ll highlight what are the basics of the flu shot and what the risk / benefits are of each component.  As for whether you receive or decline the shot; that’s between you and your doctor.

One of the biggest criticisms against the flu shot is that the strains used aren’t what are currently making people sick.  That’s true; one only needs to go back to 2009 and the H1N1 swine flu virus for an example of a missed strain in the initial flu shot to see this.[i]  Oddly, the 1918 outbreak provided immunity in 33% of adults over age 60.  If you look at the 2012-13 flu season and the strains being included, these 3 are the likely culprits to infect this year.[ii]  So, if you get the vaccination, you’re protected from those strains; but only those strains.

Another worry is about adjuvants.  Frankly, people misunderstand what an adjuvant is and what the risks from it are.  The only approved adjuvant for human vaccination in the United States is Aluminum and has been used since the 1930’s[iii]  Unlike custom antibodies, Freunds, Titremax and others aren’t approved for human use.

The use of Thimeresol is somewhat worrisome to potential patients.  This additive is a preservative in multi-usage vials typically used in clinics to prevent bacterial contamination.  Staphylococcus bacteria, obviously, could be deadly if administered, so a preservative is required. [iv]     After administration, Thimerersol is broken down to ethylmercury (far less toxic than methyl mercury) and thiosalicylate.  Infants receive a Thimerersol free version of the vaccine.  A review of toxicity concluded that “Conducted in 1999, this review found no evidence of harm from the use of thimerosal as a vaccine preservative, other than local hypersensitivity reactions (Ball et al. 2001).”[v]

So, what raises concern?   As is always true with internet sources, alternative viewpoints abound. [vi]   Concerns are valid and justified, but only you and your doctor can weigh the risks versus the benefits.  A major, but often overlooked benefit is herd immunity.  By getting vaccinated, you aren’t harboring the virus and transmitting it to immnuo-compromised people you come in contact with.  Washing your hands often also accomplished this.

Finally, why discuss this in a custom antibody and peptide synthesis context?  Well, custom antibodies are raised very akin to these vaccines.  We use adjuvants, carefully thought out immunogens and raise these in hosts (although we don’t raise in eggs, but animals).  These could be peptide based, protein based or other immunogens, but the immunogen raises an immune response and the B and T cells make immunoglobulins to combat this foreign material.  The very best antibodies fit for purpose are produced, isolated and purified for usage.  As with the flu shot, the animal does the work of assembling the antibody against this foreign species and it isn’t always a perfectly controlled system.   But it gets you the very best chance for an antibody to detect and process the material it’s raised against.