- Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
- On Wednesday, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it is testing the first-ever universal flu vaccine on humans.
- The vaccine is supposed to target parts of the flu virus that appear in multiple strains of the disease.
- This could create longer-lasting flu protection and make annual flu shots unnecessary.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced on Wednesday, that it’s testing the first-ever universal flu vaccine in people.
Researchers will gradually inject 53 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 70 with the vaccine, then monitor the subjects’ immune responses over 12 to 15 months to see how they respond.
The goal is to develop a universal flu vaccine that will give people long-term immunity. This type of flu vaccine would target components of the disease that exist in many strains of the flu, regardless of how the disease mutates. That could make annual flu shots, which target different strains of the flu each year, obsolete.
“Seasonal influenza is a perpetual public health challenge, and we continually face the possibility of an influenza pandemic resulting from the emergence and spread of novel influenza viruses,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a press release.
Influenza is often called the “seasonal flu,” and for good reason – infections pick up in the winter, and the strains of influenza that spread each year can vary. That’s why scientists create a new flu vaccine every year that targets the viruses circulating that particular season.
The flu can be deadly. During the 2017-2018 season, which was particularly bad in the US, about 80,000 people died, according to the Washington Post.
Healthcare professionals recommend getting a flu shot every year to stay protected against new or re-emerging flu strains. But the vaccine is never perfect; it decreases your chances of contracting the flu and makes the illness less severe if you do get it, but it doesn’t protect you 100%.
“In a year when there’s a good match between the vaccine and the circulating viruses, it reduces your risk of getting the flu somewhere between 40 and 60%,” Dr. Malcolm Thaler of New York City’s One Medical previously told INSIDER.
There are 29 kinds of influenza type A, and even more strains if you consider all the types of the flu out there (A, B, C, and D types). Currently, vaccines can protect against three or four kinds of the flu at once, but not all.
A universal flu vaccine has the potential to change that, though, if the tests in people prove successful. The researchers behind this new trial will begin to report their findings next year.
In the not-so-distant future, coming down with the flu may no longer be a winter worry.
- Read more:
- Parents are hosting chicken pox parties so their kids can ‘get it over with,’ but a pediatrician says the practice is a gamble
- Inside ‘vaccine court,’ where the US government pays millions to people who say they were harmed by vaccines
- What every 2020 presidential candidate has said about vaccines