Omicron variant influenza (OVI) protection still largely unknown: experts

UK is among few countries offering vaccine to men who have had sex with men

Omicron variant influenza (OVI) protection still largely unknown: experts

UK is among few countries offering vaccine to men who have had sex with men

The UK is among few countries offering the new vaccine against a very dangerous strain of flu to men who have had sex with men, according to a new review.

Vaccines for men who have had sex with men have shown some degree of protection against swine flu, H1N1, avian flu and other disease types, the authors of the research said. But, so far, this additional protection from a new type has remained unclear.

The analysis, led by an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, looked at 18 studies that reviewed men’s responses to the quadrivalent flu vaccine developed by the UK and US.

The researchers found that men who were vaccinated had a moderately greater chance of receiving protection against OVI in comparison to men who were not vaccinated, but that’s not the whole story, they said.

Some studies found that the vaccine caused no effect against this less common virus and others reported a protective effect but the researchers said the evidence was weak. In general, they did not see a benefit that was adequate to justify vaccination, said Dr Nadja Sahic.

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“This is particularly concerning, because although it is a new virus, there is no vaccine for it that protects people against the wider range of virus strains,” Sahic told the BBC.

The findings are published in the British Medical Journal.

OVI makes up about 4% of the flu virus and is quite rare, especially in people younger than 60. When the new quadrivalent vaccine was first developed, researchers wanted to see if it would have some effect against the increasingly common virus that infects men who have sex with men.

The new vaccine is linked to a rare form of paralysis of the spinal cord that can lead to death.

Dr Louisa Lee, a parasitologist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the BBC that one of the reasons this form of infection can be so dangerous is that when it comes into contact with the immune system it is “exceptionally bad” at escaping. “It gets through, [but] when it does, it does quite badly,” she said.

More than 4,500 men who have had sex with men are estimated to have contracted the infection last year alone, and about 1,200 died, according to figures from Public Health England.

Lee told the BBC that though the study findings suggest that vaccination offers protection, it has to be repeated for many years. “I am worried it may not be enough to warrant the level of expenditure of the cost of the vaccine.”

Worldwide, flu claims an estimated 10 million to 50 million lives a year, but the bug is now more difficult to catch because the viruses no longer share genes.

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