BALTIMORE – Could the sneezy, runny-eyed misery of hay fever one day be a thing of the past? Scientists are reporting encouraging results from early tests of a vaccine they hope will give long-lasting relief from this seasonal scourge.
The experimental vaccine has been tested on only a couple of dozen people so far, but it substantially relieved symptoms for those who received it in six weekly shots, and the benefit lasted for at least two years, doctors reported in today’s New England Journal of Medicine.
The vaccine “holds great promise,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which helped fund the study.
Up to 40 million Americans suffer from hay fever, caused by an allergy to ragweed pollen.
To relieve symptoms, many take antihistamines and other medications. But the only option for longer-lasting relief has been dozens of shots over three to five years to try to sensitize the immune system. This helps only about a third of patients.
The study tested a vaccine made by California-based Dynavax Technologies.
Hay fever sufferers were given either six shots of the vaccine or dummy shots. The vaccine did not improve the main measurement doctors were using to gauge its effectiveness – a drop in a protein in mucus that is normally lower after traditional allergy shots.
However, the vaccine reduced symptoms of sneezing, runny nose and eyes, and itchy ears and throats by 60 percent on average in the 14 who received it compared with the 11 who did not.