Universal Flu Vaccine Could End Annual Shots

Winter comes with the threat of influenza, and in recent years, it’s become an annual routine to get a flu shot. However, in a few years, your autumn flu shot could be your last.

A newly created vaccine protects from eight different flu strains simultaneously. The results in tests on mice were promising, and scientists hope to move on to testing ferrets next, according to the study published in the journal mBio.

Current flu vaccines only protect against whichever strains U.S. health officials think could be the most prevalent that year. Even with an annual flu shot, you’re still susceptible to other strains of the virus—and the vaccine that’s picked isn’t always the correct choice for that year. For example, the vaccine selected last year was only about 19% effective against the most predominant strain.

H1N1 influenza virus
The vaccine could protect against many flu strains, including H1N1, seen here.

Scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) created the new, more effective vaccine that could potentially protect against influenza across the board. They did this by creating a virus-like particle which was studded with 16 representative proteins from four major strains, H1, H3, H5, and H7. The proteins, called hemagglutinin, are what help influenza particles bind to our cells and allow them to be infected with the viruses genome. Today’s influenza vaccines, on the other hand, merely contain specific antigens which help train the immune system, but only for the selected strains.

Robert Preidt, reporting for of U.S. News & World Report, explains the results further:

The NIAID scientists developed a vaccine meant to protect against a number of flu strains. The vaccine protected 95 percent of mice against eight different flu strains, compared with 5 percent of mice that received mock vaccinations.

In addition to that, the mice were still protected from influenza six months post vaccination—even the older mice. This means that the vaccine could work well for seniors, something doctors have struggled with in the past. With this form of the vaccine, researchers won’t have to fit the vaccine to the virus; it would be effective against whatever strain comes their way.

This research comes at the same time as a discovery of a new antibody that could strengthen flu vaccines so that they are more likely protect against the most powerful strains of the virus, including H1N1.