Since 2010, there have been an estimated 9.3 to 49 million cases of the flu each year in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exactly how many cases there are annually largely depends on the effectiveness of the flu vaccine.
Unlike many vaccines, which may only need to be administered once or twice in a lifetime, people need to get a flu vaccine every year. That’s because each year, the two strains of the flu virus change their genetic make-up, and thus the vaccines needed to stave off the flu must change too. However, a team of researchers from New York are rethinking how vaccines target the virus in the hopes that a universal flu vaccine may someday become a reality.
The team developed a test vaccine that targets a certain protein common to all flu viruses. But not the whole protein, just a part of it called the ‘stalk,’ which varies much less between different strains of the flu. Initial trials showed the single vaccine targeting the stalk of the protein was successful in activating antibodies that fight several different types of flu virus, including multiple strains of seasonal flu, as well as avian flu and bat flu. Even the researchers were surprised by the effectiveness.
These promising early results may move us one step closer to a single vaccine to protect against all strains of the flu. This could make for a more effective vaccination and perhaps one day mean you won’t have to roll up your sleeve before every single flu season.