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Why the Flu Vaccine Does Not Protect the Elderly Much

Update Date: Dec 17, 2015 10:21 PM EST

The flu vaccine isn't too kind to the elderly----and a new study may show why.

"We provide novel evidence of a potential connection between the baseline state of the immune system in the elderly and reduced responsiveness to vaccination," said Shankar Subramaniam, one of the researchers, in a news release. "By providing a more complete picture of how the immune system responds to vaccination, our findings may help guide the development of next-generation vaccines that offer long-lasting immunity and better production of at-risk populations."

Flu vaccines have proteins found in circulating viral strains, and protect humans by eliciting the production of antibodies, or proteins that help identify human pathogens and fight diseases.

However, it has not been effective for the elderly, according to scienceworldreport.

The researchers first identified "molecular signatures of immunity to flu vaccination" when they used systems biology approaches. This involves the "computational and mathematical modeling of complex biological systems".

By vaccinating 212 subjects, including 54 elderly individuals, across five influenza vaccine seasons, the scientists analyzed their blood samples.

The study showed that in a week, the youth's bodies exhibited high levels of "antibody-producing B cells", even as the older people showed "high levels of immune cells called monocytes". Now these provoke inflammatory reactions in the body.

In three weeks, the elderly showed "impaired vaccine-induced immune responses".

"This supports the concept that inflammatory responses at baseline may be detrimental to the induction of vaccine-induced antibody responses," said Subramaniam. "While it is early to suggest, supplementary therapeutic approaches, such as reducing the inflammatory response in elderly patients after vaccination, would be valuable avenues to pursue. However, this warrants longer and more detailed investigations."

The findings are published in the journal Immunity.

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