Universal Flu Vaccine May Be Right Around the Corner

Every year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes a deadline recommendation for getting a flu shot.  Obviously, there is no penalty for not getting a flu shot but it does dramatically increase your risk for getting sick. Perhaps more importantly, if you contract the flu virus and have not received your immunization you could carry it to another person who might be more vulnerable to it. 

Indeed, Alberta Health Services medical health officer Dr. Albert De Villiers advises about the importance of immunization, even if you are young and healthy. He laments, “There are still people that pass away because of influenza. And the other thing is you could also have the disease without having the symptoms. So you might be infecting other people, and if you know other people who might be vulnerable, like the elderly, or little kids under six months that cannot get the vaccine yet, you might make them sick without knowing it, so that’s something we’re trying to avoid.”

To avoid contracting and spreading the flu, you can do more than get your flu shot.  Washing your hands after touching public surfaces like doorknobs is a good start, as well as not putting your hands in your mouth. Of course, covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough minimizes the potential for spreading the virus. 

Fortunately, scientists are on the cusp of developing a new flu vaccine with a better success rate.  You see, every year, medical technicians have to anticipate which of the two main viral flu strains will be the biggest threat.  As such, there has never been a universal vaccine; and its the reason you have to get a new shot every year. 

However, a team of researchers at the Mount Sinai Hospital Icahn School of Medicine, in New York, has developed a new approach that might finally open the door to such a thing as a universal flu vaccine.  

Lead researchers Professor Peter Palese and Professor Florian Krammer explain that hemagglutinin may be the key.  This is a protein present on the surface of all flu viruses, acting as a rudder that directs the virus to a host cell. Effectively, this new concept targets the “stalk” of hemagglutinin (as opposed to its more diverse “head”) by engineering a “chimeric hemagglutinin” protein variant. 

Professor Krammer explains that this vaccine prototype managed to induce broad antibody response, not only against varying human influenza strains but avian and bat strains as well. 

The research has been published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases.