Inactivated influenza vaccines: Recent progress and implications for the elderly

Valentina Parodi, Daniela De Florentiis, Mariano Martini, Filippo Ansaldi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current public health strategy for the containment of influenza is annual vaccination, which is recommended for the elderly and for those in risk factor categories that present the highest morbidity and mortality. However, because the immune response in the elderly is known to be less vigorous than in younger adults, research in the last decade has focused on improving the immune response to vaccination and increasing the protection of aged populations.The decreased efficacy of vaccines in the elderly is due to several factors, such as a decrease in the number of Langerhans cells, the limited capacity of dendritic cells to present antigen, defects in the expression of Toll-like receptors and the reduced expression of MHC class I and II molecules. Also, production of mature naive T cells by the thymus decreases with age.Among several approaches proposed to address the need for more immunogenic vaccines compared with conventional agents, the most well proven is the use of adjuvants.The first licensed adjuvant, aluminium-based mineral salts (alum), introduced in the 1920s, remains the standard worldwide adjuvant for human use and it has been widely used for almost a century. However, the addition of alum adjuvant to a split or subunit influenza vaccine has induced only marginal improvements. Other adjuvants have been developed and approved for human use since 1997; in particular, MF59, an oil-in-water adjuvant emulsion of squalene, which is able to increase immunogenicity of seasonal, pre-pandemic and pandemic subunit vaccines while maintaining acceptable safety and tolerability profiles. More recently, another oil-in-water emulsion, AS03, has been approved as a component of pre-pandemic H5N1 and pandemic H1N1 2009 vaccines.Besides adjuvants, several other strategies have been assessed to enhance antibody response in the elderly and other less responsive subjects, such as high-dose antigen vaccines, carrier systems (liposomesvirosomes) and the intradermal route of immunization. In particular, the potential of intradermal vaccination is well documented and the recent availability of an appropriate injection system, which combines simplicity, safety and ease of use, has allowed evaluation of the tolerability, safety and immunogenicity of the intradermal influenza vaccine in large numbers of subjects. Data that emerged from large clinical trials showed an improved immunogenicity compared with that of standard vaccine.Observational studies or comparisons between adjuvanted, intradermal or high-dose versus conventional vaccines are needed to evaluate whether the greater immunogenicity observed in a number of recent studies is correlated with greater protection against influenza and influenza-related complications and death.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-106
Number of pages14
JournalDrugs and Aging
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Elderly
  • Influenza-virus-infections, prevention
  • Influenza-virus-vaccine, therapeutic use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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