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07 Dec 2022

Whole virus-based flu vaccine improves immune response, study finds

With influenza once again on the rise after declining during the COVID-19 pandemic, immunisation against the virus is the most effective way to reduce symptoms and hospitalisations. 

But the way we vaccinate for the flu could change thanks to new research from the Doherty Institute and Hokkaido University.  

In a collaborative study between the Doherty Institute and Hokkaido University, scientists used a non-human primate model to investigate immune responses to inactivated whole influenza virus particle (WPV) formulations and found that they were significantly more effective at inducing antibody responses compared to the more common split virus (SV) vaccines.  

University of Melbourne’s Dr Brendon Chua, who led the research together with Professor Katherine Kedzierska at the Doherty Institute, said that the results are an exciting step towards improving the overall efficacy of flu vaccines.  

“Our findings from this study not only provide an insight into why WPV vaccines are better than the existing vaccines, but also advocate their use as a vaccine strategy that could be implemented, particularly for immunologically-naive individuals, such as children who haven't had a lot of exposure to the flu,” Dr Chua said.  

Although SV vaccines are currently the best way to combat influenza, their efficacy is modest. 

Dr Chua believes that WPV could eventually become the most effective vaccine for seasonal influenza in Japan due to their extensive benefits.  

“You can imagine these vaccines would be used, not only during the flu season, but also in the event of a pandemic, because they can be rapidly deployed and they're a lot easier to manufacture,” Dr Chua said.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic showed that there is very much still a need to develop ways to prepare us for these sorts of events, particularly given the ongoing global health impact of seasonal influenza, and threat from spill-over events caused by avian-derived influenza,” Dr Chua said.  

“We still need better vaccines, or at least some improvement on vaccine strategies to help protect the population better.” 

Although it may be some time before treating influenza with WPV becomes standard practice, Phase I clinical trials have recently been conducted in Japan, and researchers aim to enter Phase II trials in the near future.  


Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development 

Japan Society for the Promotion of Science 

Australian National Health and Medical Research Council 

GI-CoRE Program of Hokkaido University 

The University of Melbourne 

DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1010891