A vaccine against the flu has been made, and, for the first time, it has the potential to protect against the flu … for life. The vaccine could possibly even be manufactured quickly enough to stop a flu pandemic. Currently, flu vaccines take about six months to be developed, and they have to be re-invented each year since flu strains change annually.
A person becomes immune to a flu strain when the immune system learns to recognize key proteins on the surface of the flu virus. These strains, called NA and HA, can be recognized either because a person has fought off that particular strain before or has been immunized.
The flu, however, constantly evolves, so one year’s immunization does not protect against next year’s flu strain. Most flu vaccines are grown in chicken eggs or cell culture. The process can take up to six months.
Now, researchers believe that the secret to a one-time effective flu vaccine involves going beyond the evolving NA and HA strains to fight a target that does not change. The newly proposed flu vaccine targets the underlying RNA-driven processes that create the varying strains of NA and HA. Therefore, this new vaccinations would beat the flu at its source before it morphs into a new strain.
The new vaccine is made only of mRNA, a single-stranded molecule that essentially teaches cells which proteins to make. Injected mRNA would be detected by the body’s immune cells, which would then translate the vaccine into a protein. The protein would then be recognized by the body as a foreign substance and trigger an immune response if the virus is ever encountered.
Therefore, the immunization would need to be administered only once, in childhood, and would protect from a lifetime of varying flu strains.
This method has been attempted before with little success since the injected mRNA seems to be pulled apart when it enters the blood stream. However, researchers have recently discovered that, when bound with a protein called protamine, the mRNA is protected.
The new mRNA-based vaccine, unlike others, can be turned into a freeze-dried powder that does not need to be refrigerated like current flu vaccines.
The vaccine has not yet been tested on people.
If a flu shot was available for one-time protection against all strains of the flu, would you get it?