This universal flu vaccine could protect against future pandemics

Scientists say they've made a breakthrough in pandemic protection and are working on a vaccine that targets all 20 known types of flu. Currently, an annual jab is required to protect against the flu, which mutates constantly.

According to researchers, the new flu vaccine uses the same messenger-ribonucleic-acid (mRNA) technology as seen in the successful COVID-19 vaccines. The vaccine contains antigens – safe copies of recognisable bits of all 20 known subtypes of influenza A and B viruses – that can teach the immune system how to fight them and, hopefully, any new strain that could spark a pandemic.

During testing, the vaccine triggered high levels of antibodies in ferrets and mice, suggesting it could fight a broad range of flu-like illnesses and offer protection in future pandemics.

new universal flu vaccine could protect against future pandemics
Marko Geber - Getty Images

"Current influenza vaccines do not protect against influenza viruses with pandemic potential," said Adolfo García-Sastre, Director of the Institute for Global Health and Emerging Pathogens at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. "This vaccine, if it works well in people, would achieve this."

"The studies are preclinical, in experimental models," García-Sastre went on. "They are very promising and, although they suggest a protective capacity against all subtypes of influenza viruses, we cannot be sure until clinical trials in volunteers are done."

Nevertheless, other experts are still hopeful. "All of this implies the potential for an easily and rapidly constructed universal vaccine that could be of great use in the event of a pandemic outbreak of a novel influenza virus," noted Estanislao Nistal, a virologist at San Pablo University.

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