The influenza virus that causes the flu is a rapidly mutating virus that changes strains from year to year. Due to the nature of this virus, new flu vaccines must be developed each year based on the new strains. Currently, a visit to a primary medical care center or urgent care clinic for each year’s new flu vaccine is recommended to protect from this potentially deadly virus or to diminish its severity.
A new study conducted by researchers at the Nebraska Center for Virology, shows promising results for a flu vaccine that when administered once, can provide lifelong immunity against the flu. This vaccine, that has only been tested on mice, uses ancestral genes from four different flu strains. The mice that were given the experimental flu vaccine and exposed to lethal doses of 7 of the 9 most common flu viruses, showed great resistance. Those receiving the highest doses did not even show symptoms of the flu. The mice in the study who received traditional flu vaccines and exposed to the same viruses in the same doses, all became ill and died.
As promising as this study is, we are a long way from walking into a primary medical care center or urgent care clinic and receiving this universal flu vaccine, which would provide protection against all flu strains. The researchers do not expect this new flu vaccine to be available to the public until 2020 or 2025.
The conventional flu vaccines are shown to be less than 60% effective even when properly matched with the current strains. Thus, even though the current flu vaccines do save lives, there is lots of room for improvement. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimates that, “40 million Americans contracted influenza during the 2015 – 2016 flu season and 970,000 people were hospitalized for the ailment.”