Towards a Universal Flu Vaccine
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Towards a Universal Flu Vaccine

Every year, a new flu vaccine has to be developed. Maybe no longer, as the development of a universal flu vaccine is well on its way.

The Flu and Vaccines

Every year in winter, it seems there is a new flu epidemic somewhere (see The Flu and Air Humidity). Nausea, stomach aches and running noses all around. Luckily, there are flu vaccines. Sadly, these typically work on one or just a few strains of the flu virus. So, even when vaccinated, one can still get infected by another flu strain, meaning that one should be vaccinated every year.

This, of course, is a rather large waste of money and resources, producing and distributing new vaccines every year, knowing that the year that these will no longer be effective in the year that follows.

What if there would be a vaccine that is effective against all strains of the flu?

The Universal Flu Vaccine

Researchers at the Institute for Vaccine Design at Oxford Martin School, Oxford University, have been working on the development of exactly such a universal flu vaccine.

Where traditional vaccines work by stimulating antibodies that attack the external proteins on the flu virus, the new vaccine takes on a different approach, since these proteins mutate quickly. The new vaccine stimulates the production of T cells, another important component of the immune system. This may provide a new of dealing with the virus, as these T cells attack the internal proteins of the virus, which mutate at a slower rate. These proteins thus differ less between different flu strains.

Needless to say that this development could significantly reduce healthcare costs, as this type of vaccine could be stored in advance for several years (or even decades) in order to prevent flu epidemics.

Another possible advantage is that it may be more effective at protecting older people (see The Effects of Age on the Immune System), as they typically have problems creating antibodies, which is required with traditional flu vaccines.

How Long Until It’s There?

The human trials for this universal flu vaccine have already started. The institute plans to do other trials with thousands of new volunteers in the next few years, and it is estimated that the vaccine might be entering the market within five years.

References

  • Berthoud, T.K.; Hamill, M.; Lillie, P.J.; Hwenda, L.; Collins, K.A.; Ewer, K.J.; Milicic, A.; Poyntz, H.C.; Lambe, T.; Fletcher, H.A.; Hill, A.V. & Gilbert, S.C. (2011). Potent CD8+ T-cell immunogenicity in humans of a novel heterosubtypic influenza A vaccine, MVA-NP+M1. Clinical Infectious Disease, 52(1), pp. 1 – 7.
  • Nichol, K.L.; Nordin, J.D.; Nelson, D.B.; Mullooly, J.P. & Hak, E. (2007). Effectiveness of Influenza Vaccine in the Community-Dwelling Elderly. The New England Journal of Medicine. 375, pp. 1373 – 1381.
  • Oxford Martin School, Oxford University (http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/news/-universal-flu-vaccine)

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Comments (1)

Well, I hope this vaccine does not cost that much.

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