Those with hay fever are itching for the arrival of a new vaccine
11th September 2012
Hay fever is without doubt one of the most prevalent allergic conditions in the United Kingdom, with an estimated 10 million sufferers just in England alone. Therefore it will be music to the ears of millions today to learn that scientists are developing a pioneering new vaccine that could result in sneezing and itchy eyes being a thing of the past. Ironically, the news comes in the same week that  weather experts have issued warnings that the pollen season could be extended by an additional six weeks due to the effects of global warning. Antihistamine tablets such as Loratadine and sprays such as Nasonex provide effective relief from the bothersome symptoms that hay fever brings, but in severe cases where such treatments have not improved your condition, an allergy specialist may recommend ‘immunotherapy’. This is usually a three-year long period of injections containing high doses of the pollen you are allergic to, as a daily tablet that you put underneath your tongue, or in the form of drops. However this current method for treating severe hay fever is incredibly expensive for the NHS, and can be massively inconvenient for the patient. It costs roughly £500 annually for the course of injections or a whopping £1,000 for a course of anti-allergy tablets or drops. Also, it is thought only about 1,000 of sufferers can benefit from these types of therapy. The British scientists behind the breakthrough of the latest jabs claim that their ‘targeted’ approach will result in more cost-effective and efficient vaccines being made widely available. Researchers based at Imperial College London and King's College London, carried out tests where they targeted a layer of skin in patients that they believe is a ‘hotline’ to the immune system. As opposed to the more expensive injections, researchers based their experiments on much lower doses than before and using more shallow injections into an area of skin loaded with white blood cells (part of the immune system). The doses are about 2,000 smaller than previously and require a lot fewer injections, thus being less of a financial burden on the NHS. Tests on 30 patients showed that their allergic reaction to grass pollen, (the most common allergen for hay fever sufferers), actually reduced over time when they were given the new low-dose vaccines. Next, a clinical trial will soon be underway involving a further 90 patients to determine if certain symptoms such as sneezing are decreased. Dr Stephen Till, from King’s College London, spoke on the revolutionary developments and said, “This new vaccine is potentially applicable to far larger numbers than the existing one. If this approach proves to be effective it would define a new scientific and clinical principle that could also be applied to other allergic diseases such as asthma and food allergies. This could be a pivotal study in immunological research.” Maureen Jenkins, the director of clinical services at the charity Allergy UK, also echoed Dr Till’s excitement about the new vaccine and she said, “The proposed vaccine, if successful, is much quicker and more straightforward than current immunotherapy treatment for hay fever, which takes years. It also has the potential to offer cost savings. If this series of injections proves effective in combating hay fever, it will be a wonderful step forward in tackling this common, but often underestimated allergy.”