November 6, 2018 (Johns Hopkins University)
Influenza continues to be a large public health issue, with an estimated 100,000 hospitalizations and 30,000 deaths per year, even with effective vaccines.
A team of researchers at Johns Hopkins set out to investigate why the standard practice of going to get a flu shot does not account for the biological differences between men and woman.
The experts have compiled a large amount of research in an effort to determine the significance of biological sex and age in immune responses to the influenza vaccine. With the generous grant of $8 million from the National Institutes of Health, they are now digging deep into such variables.
To put it simply, the researchers wanted to know if something like biological sex is an important factor to take into consideration when administering a flu shot.
According to the researchers, sex and age are critical variables that influence flu virus infections and responses to vaccine. In recent research, for example, it was shown that females tend to develop significantly higher immune responses to the vaccine than men do. This finding suggests a ‘boost’ may be required in vaccines given to men.
As part of the NIH grant, two important studies will be carried out to dig deeper into this concern. One study will use mice and look at the “genetic and hormonal factors in age-related changes in immunity.” The other study will “analyze differences by sex in adverse reactions to flu shots, considering the factor of “frailty,” which tends to be more significant for men at a younger age.”
In a third key study, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Bloomburg School, Andrew Pekosz, and his team, will continue to understand the implications of biological sex on immunity, by collecting post-flu shots from health care workers at Johns Hopkins.