As the spread of coronavirus continues and the medical community comes to better understand how this strain of the flu differs from others they’ve seen before, researchers are working frantically to develop a vaccine that could prevent future outbreaks of the virus.
But when that vaccine is found, how effective it will be across populations is questionable. Typically, vaccines for other variations of the flu have not been effective across all populations in the same way, particularly in the case of older adults.
A study published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe notes that infection fighting B-cells tend to be weaker in the immune systems of older adults. Vaccines normally rely on healthy functioning B-cells to work, creating a problem for the population most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19.
Why are Seniors B-Cells Weaker?
The study compared differences in how the B-cells of older and younger adults responded to newer strains of the flu virus. The immune systems of younger people were better at recognizing how the virus had mutated and creating effective antibodies to fight it than their older counterparts.
The B-cells of the elderly had less diversity and thus, produced antibodies that were less effective, leading one researcher to describe their B-cells as “stuck in the past and unable to keep up with the way influenza strains evolve over time.”
When B-cells are created to fight off a virus, the information is stored in what may be simply referred to as memory B cells. These are important as they remember the necessary antibodies to fight off such an infection and create more of them. These memory B-cells, however, are the reason why older adults are stronger against older versions of the flu than young people whose systems have never seen it.
While participants between the ages of 50 and 70 were noted to have significantly decreased flu fighting power in their immune systems, the most at-risk group is those over the age of 70.
In the end, what the research shows us from a clinical standpoint is that vaccines driving protective mutations in B cells are of great importance in the fight to improve influenza immunity in the elderly.
Do Flu Vaccines Work for Seniors?
Knowing this, you may be wondering if getting a flu shot or newly developed vaccine is even worth it. Put simply, the answer is yes.
While seniors may have trouble developing the antibodies to fight new strains of the flu, research shows that they still significantly reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths from flu viruses among the elderly population.
While it is still recommended that older adults get a flu vaccine, it should be noted that the method of delivery is important. Research suggests that injections are more effective than the nasal spray form of the vaccine, which delivers a weakened form of the virus which does not sufficiently prepare the system for a battle against a sever flu.
Vaccinations can decrease the severity of the flu’s symptoms at the very least, something that can prove a vital difference for elderly populations who already struggle with broader health implications from the flu to begin with.