Universal Flu Vaccine Moves Closer to Reality as Phase 1 Testing Begins

  • Influenza is a virus that affects millions of people in the United States each year.
  • Each year, between 40 percent and 50 percent of adults get vaccinated against the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Scientists are now studying a vaccine in a phase 1 trial that could potentially protect against all flu strains.

A new form of influenza vaccine is currently being tested to help protect against all forms of influenza. The National Institutes of Health recently announced that they are starting their phase one Test for a universal flu vaccine.

Currently, the annual seasonal flu vaccine only covers certain strains of the virus. However, scientists are now studying a vaccine that could protect against all strains of the flu.

While this is not the first attempt to create this type of vaccine, this experimental vaccine has been successful in animal models and is being tested in humans for the first time.

Influenza is a virus that affects millions of people in the United States each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimates that between 2019 and 2020, 35 million people had symptomatic influenza. This resulted in more than 380,000 hospitalizations and around 20,000 deaths.

Protection against the flu not only requires people to practice safe and healthy measures like washing their hands, distancing themselves from sick people, and wearing a mask when available, but also the flu vaccine. Each year, between 40 percent and 50 percent of adults get vaccinated against the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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“We know that the influenza virus has a great capacity for change and that is the main reason why we have to have an update of the influenza vaccine every year,” he says. Dr William Schaffnerinfectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee.

The current trial is in the Phase 1 stage, with about 100 people receiving the experimental vaccine.

“Current flu vaccines only cover the strains that are actually in the vaccine, 4 strains currently,” he said. Dr. Paul GoepfertDirector of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In some years, the available vaccine is very effective at defending against the flu, and in other years, the virus has changed enough to evade protection.

According to the test dataenrolls up to 100 non-smokers ages 18-55 who have not yet received the currently available flu vaccine.

Participants do not know if they are receiving which of the three available vaccines. One group will receive the experimental vaccine intramuscularly in the arm and a saline placebo intranasally or in the nose. Another group will receive a saline placebo in the arm and the vaccine intranasally. The final group will receive a placebo through both methods.

Over the next 7 months, all participants will be monitored for symptoms, their temperature will be checked, and additional tests will be performed to determine the immune response to the vaccine.

Influenza is transmitted by the respiratory route from one individual to another. The currently available influenza vaccine does not produce a significant immune response in the mucus-filled regions of our lungs, throat, and nose, which are the most critical areas for fighting respiratory viruses like influenza.

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“By testing this universal vaccine in the nasal passages as well as the traditional method through the arm, scientists will be able to tease out the effective nature of the vaccine through both methods,” Schaffner told Healthline.

Currently, the flu vaccine is developed months in advance of the actual flu season. Scientists use multiple data points to accurately predict which strains of influenza are most likely to affect the country, including looking at strains common in the southern hemisphere during winter.

Scientists estimate which flu strains made people sick last season and which are likely to spread widely in the coming season. They then make the necessary changes they need to make to the vaccine to target those strains. But all of this is done months before the flu season.

Currently it takes up to 6 months to create large enough quantities of the vaccine.

However, with a universal vaccine, scientists will be able to protect against all strains of influenza, creating what some scientists call the holy grail of vaccines.

Goepfert agrees that this trial may hold promise for a successful vaccine in the future; it is not known whether an annual dose will be needed.

“People are less likely to need early vaccinations, but it depends on how many strains are covered and how long the immune response lasts,” he tells Healthline.

This current study shows an opportunity for vaccine success, but several other scientists have attempted to create a universal influenza vaccine but have been unsuccessful.

“If this vaccine is successful, it will be several years before we see it available,” says Schaffner.

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​“The first steps were successfully completed in the laboratory and in animals and have shown promise, so in the coming months the phase one study will be completed and, if successful, it will move on to larger and more inclusive phases. in the future, but this will take time.”