Every year millions of people get a flu shot. The next year they get another flu shot, and then another one and so on. People have to get flu shots every year because the flu vaccine targets proteins on the outer shell of the flu virus, and since the genetic code for these proteins mutates frequently, the proteins change frequently. It’s a shell game, so to speak (ahem).
What if we develop a new flu vaccine that targets something that doesn’t change so much from year to year? In that case, all we need is get the flu shot once. It would last pretty much forever!
Researchers at Oxford University are beginning human trials of this very thing. The experimental flu vaccine targets viral proteins that are expressed after the flu virus invades human cells. These proteins rarely change, and interestingly (if you’re an immunologist) they trigger a cell-mediated immune response rather than an antibody-mediated response.
Exciting stuff, but this is not happening any time soon. Since human safety trials are just beginning, we’re talking a minimum 4-8 years before any universal flu vaccine could make it to market.