Universal Flu Vaccine Coming Within 10 Years?

The race is on for a universal flu vaccine — a single vaccine that could provide broad protection against a wide variety of influenza A flu strains. The ideal universal vaccine would also provide protection for several years instead of requiring a new shot every flu season. And, of course, it would be helpful if it could be given by a number of methods, including by injection, by mouth, or by nasal spray.

Well, the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine has joined the hunt, with new research into a possible universal flu vaccine published in a recent Journal of Virology. Lead author Biao He said that the team’s new study at least proves it’s possible: “This finding suggests flu vaccines can protect against multiple strains, thus fewer flu vaccinations will be necessary.”

As you might expect from veterinary researchers, their discovery came about because of work they’ve already done on developing technology to create better vaccines for conditions like kennel cough in dogs.

To see if the new techniques would work for contagious human flu viruses, they selected two different strains of the seasonal flu virus known as influenza A — H1N1 and H5N1. Normally, a vaccine effective against one wouldn’t work against the other, creating a challenge each year as researchers have to both predict what strain will be coming and then quickly develop the year’s vaccine.

However, the new vaccine was 100 percent effective against H1N1 and still 60 percent effective against H5N1 — suggesting that the researchers could be on the right track.

As The Inquisitr has previously reported, the 2012/2013 flu vaccine was a bust. This year’s vaccine was only effective for about 56 percent of people who got it.

Worse, it was only about 27 percent effective in seniors over age 65, a group that is particularly vulnerable to death and other serious complications from catching the flu.

And, of course, the hunt for an effective vaccine always takes up a new urgency when a new strain breaks out. Over the past few days, the government of China has acknowledged that the H7N9 bird flu, not known previously to infect humans, has killed two people and seriously infected five more.

The sooner we get a successful universal flu vaccine, the better.

[flu vaccine photo by Thompson Rivers via flickr]