Val-De-Reuil, France:: Work is in full swing at the manufacturing facility of Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of French multinational pharmaceutical company Sanofi at Val-de-Reuil in north-western France, almost 170km from the fashion capital of the world.

Cartons of flu vaccine are ready to be shipped for the upcoming influenza season. Introduced so far in about 50 countries, the new quadrivalent flu vaccine that provides protection against four strains of influenza virus will soon be launched in India.

Licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2013, the quadrivalent vaccine helps protect against four influenza strains (two A strains and two B strains). It will be the first four-strain influenza vaccine to be introduced in India for all age groups.

Influenza is a respiratory illness that spreads easily and can lead to severe complications.

More than 115,000 cases of influenza and more than 8,000 deaths due to influenza have been recorded since 2010, according to the ministry of health’s Integrated Disease Surveillance Project (IDSP). However, this number is limited to influenza caused due to one strain, H1N1, only. The experts also noted that in 2017, the H3N2 and B subtypes of influenza virus were circulating, due to a build-up of the susceptible population. It was the first time the team had documented circulation of H3N2 and Influenza B.

Dr Nickolas Jackson, global research head at Sanofi Pasteur believes vaccine for influenza holds a lot of significance. “There are new estimates from the WHO on the rate of the influenza disease at the global level, which show that thousands of deaths a year from the global level are caused by the seasonal influenza. A lot of deaths are caused in the elderly, particularly those over 65 when the effectiveness of the immune system begins to decline. What this vaccine has done is to shifted the standard of care to the improved protection in the elderly," said Jackson.

The new flu vaccine can be used in people six months of age and older and provides greater protection.

“The B strain of influenza that co-circulates now in many areas of the world it’s extremely hard for the authorities to circulate the best strain. The challenge was to make two B strains in the regular vaccine. Some of the circulating virus in the future when the winter season comes is not a precise match of the vaccine. The mismatch can in some years be problematic. That’s a big reason that we have dedicated a group of scientists to work specifically on a vaccine with greater breadth of protection," said Jackson.

Each year, influenza vaccines are manufactured to protect against multiple strains based on recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO). The quadrivalent vaccine competes with the previously dominated by trivalent vaccines that protected against three strains of influenza — two A strains and single B strain.

While the influenza vaccine has not been recommended by the Indian government’s top expert body on vaccines. Pr Pier Luigi Lopalco, professor of hygiene and preventive medicine at the university of Pisa, Italy, said governments should take the influenza vaccines on board.

“I think that flu is good investment that this is the key, it’s worth investing on influenza vaccine. Influenza pandemic can be devastating. Influenza pandemics are very sensitive for governments. We don’t know when the pandemic will come but we are sure that it will come and being prepared is very important. Seasonal vaccine is a part of the pandemic preparedness," Lopalco said.

Dr Su-Peing Ng, head of global affairs, Sanofi Pasteur, said “Vaccinating the elderly against influenza can help prevent 60% of illnesses and hospitalisations in this population and 80% of deaths in elderly."

(This writer’s trip to Paris was facilitated by Sanofi)

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