Universal flu vaccine possible within five years

A universal flu vaccine could be a reality in five to seven years, US researchers say.

Flu jab: universal vaccine could offer long-term protection (Photo: Jim Varney)
Flu jab: universal vaccine could offer long-term protection (Photo: Jim Varney)

A study in the Journal of Virology has found that ‘broadly neutralising antibodies’ show promise for use in a universal jab, as they would target parts of the virus that do not change as it mutates.

‘Unlike seasonal vaccines, which must be given annually, this type of vaccine would only be given once, and would have the ability to protect against all strains of flu, even when the virus mutates,’ lead researcher Dr Matthew Miller from McMaster University said.

‘This would prevent the occurrence of flu pandemics and poor vaccine efficiency in the case of mismatches.’

Ineffective vaccines

This year, the flu vaccine in the US has only reduced the number of doctor’s appointments for flu-like symptoms by 23%, compared to 50-60% in previous years, figures from the US Centers for Disease Control show.

The low effectiveness is because the dominant strain circulating in the population has genetically ‘drifted’ from the strains used in the vaccine.

The UK’s flu vaccine has suffered similar problems and has been shown to only protect against five out of 24 circulating strains. Levels of flu in the UK are at their highest in three years.

But Dr Richard Pebody, head of seasonal flu surveillance at PHE, said: ‘There is currently no evidence that the drift variant will become the dominant strain here, or that such a drift will result in reduced effectiveness of the 2014/15 vaccine.’

‘The existing vaccine is likely to still provide some protection and getting vaccinated remains the best way to protect yourself from flu.’

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