In the first half of the previous century, various methods were developed for the treatment of the flu and/or common colds, ranging from homeopathy to injections with quinine (Blake, 1947).
However, already in 1919, the bacteriologist Heagerty observed that: The strongest weapon in the hands of the health officer in the fight which he constantly wages against infectious disease is vaccination (Heagerty, 1919). Vaccinations against the flu were the only way to control the epidemic, according to the author. As early as 1919, there were various vaccines available on the market, although it was far from clear what the underlying principles were and it was clear that these vaccines would not make it far. Only in December 1942, vaccinations with inactivated viruses of the influenza A and B strain were carried out. The epidemic that was expected at the time did not occur, according to Salk and colleagues (Francis et al, 1945, link; Salk et al, 1945, link). Of course initially, there was great euphoria regarding these important prophylactic effects. However, the following years proved that protection by means of influenza vaccines could be quite disappointing. In more recent years, the enthusiasm regarding the efficacy of influenza vaccines has decreased even more due to the occurrence of antigenic drift and shift. That is why a substance such as palmitoylethanolamide as protection against the flu is so important, because neither titre nor antigenic shift have tempered the effect. Furthermore, protection begins right after ingestion.
An extremely good overview from that time is the article: VACCINATION AGAINST INFLUENZA by Professor Thomas Francis (1953). He stated that vaccination provided protection against the flu from approximately 2 weeks after vaccination up to 6 months later (this still applies today). Even before 1940, chicken embryos were used for vaccination purposes and they remain the most important source of vaccines, though cell-cultures might replace this in the future. The first large study was carried out by Horsfall, Lennette, Rickard & Hirst in 1941 in 16,000 people with grinded chicken embryonic material, in which the influenza virus was inactivated with formaldehyde. Unfortunately, this first polyvalent vaccine did not offer any protection; according to Francis, probably because a bigger batch of the vaccine was too weak. Vaccination attempts in 1937, 1939 and 1941 all failed to provide protection. It is impressive that contemporary vaccines originate from these types of vaccines, which are more than half a century old. Vaccines that already then did not offer any protection…
Francis ended his overview with the following:
“At this stage, then, there was little consistent evidence from field trials that subcutaneous vaccination afforded effective protection against influenza in times of epidemic, even though studies had adequately shown that vaccination with various materials could induce an increase in antibody titre comparable to that observed after infection.”
“The only conclusions which could be drawn, therefore, were that if influenza was not prevented in the vaccinated individuals it was because (a) the vaccine was not of sufficient potency to excite antibody levels to uniformly adequate heights; (b) the strains in the vaccine were not sufficiently similar to those causing the epidemic; or (c) the level of antibodies in the blood, resulting from vaccination, was not sufficiently high to control influenza.”
PEA as alternative or addition to vaccins or antivirals
Also anno 2015 these doubts are still valid and can be heard widely.
PEA should therefore be reconsidered by clinicians as a new treatment modality for the flu and respiratory infections due to its documented efficacy and more importantly its very benign side effect profile. Furthermore, oseltamivir and zanamivir are known to induce resistance; PEA has a very low likelihood of inducing resistance due to its mechanism of action. Finally, the ease of application of PEA offers the possibility to have a quick therapeutic answer ready in case of a flu epidemic, especially in cases of a mismatch between circulating strains and the recommendations from WHO for vaccins.