Ground-breaking research by WHO scientists in collaboration with the University of British Columbia has showed that almost all older adults in the United States, Europe and the Middle East display a poor ability to read and produce in antibodies. This finding from a multi-institutional collaboration led by the University of London is published today in The Lancet.
Scientists from a number of laboratories worldwide sought to assess who had antibodies in their blood against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS. Most old people were either not vaccinated or did not benefit from booster vaccinations between 1998 and 2015, the researchers say.
HIV vaccines are recommended for some 43 million people under the age of 70 years in low-income and 20 million people in high-income countries. Developing immune responses to the vaccines has not yet improved their protection, though users have developed a healthy immune system that can protect other susceptible individuals. “There has been an unmet need for a safe, inexpensive vaccine as all-encompassing surveillance of its effectiveness” Dr. David Hughes, a vaccine researcher at the University of British Columbia, said.
Hughes and the researchers evaluated the antibodies that belonged to all key immune system participants in 6, 828 investigators aged 65+ confirmed case-control opportunities, recruited under a global project to which scientists from Britain, Italy, Scotland, Finland, Taiwan and Hong Kong had donated immune tissue.
“In 2019, roughly half of the participants in the funded study had antibodies against HIV in their blood, yet other than a highly high background level of previous infections, there was no significant decline in other HIV-infected candidate neutralizing antibodies (anti-HIV antibodies) after 22 months of consecutive placebo vaccination, ” said Prof Camilla Harrison, a researcher at the University of Oxford who was senior author of the study. “Given that HIV never develops an antibody response to the virus, we’re really concerned when immunity declines so rapidly. “
Although some of the cases in this study were quite mild – likely a result of infection to the immune system – “the magnitude of immunologically non-specific neutralizing response in very old cases tested negative, indicating that the disease remains in their system, ” added Dr. Harrison.
Substantial evidence continues to support the benefit of flu and herpes vaccines, as well as rabies vaccines and toxoid vaccination in immunocompromised individuals. “We’re still looking at the rationale of thwarting the virus during these vaccines, and where and how we should focus immunization efforts over the longer term, ” said Harrison.