How nice would it be to ditch yearly flu shots for a universal vaccine that would offer lifelong protection against the ailment, à la polio or the measles? Researchers at the Nebraska Center for Virology are working on just that—and the finished product is coming sooner than you might think.
As of right now, the team’s new four-in-one vaccine has only been tested on mice, but it has offered a high level of protection. By combining centralized ancestral genes from four major strains of influenza, researchers were able to keep the mice alive (and not even a little bit sick) despite exposure to lethal doses of a handful of viruses—something the traditional flu shots and nasal sprays couldn’t do.
“Our current influenza vaccine programs and technologies reduce influenza infections and hospitalizations by 4.75 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively. There is no doubt that we need more effective vaccines.” —Eric Weaver, lead researcher
According to a press release, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 40 million Americans came down with the flu during the 2015 to 2016 season with 970,000 hospitalizations—and shots prevented a 1.9 million illnesses and 67,000 hospitalizations. With so many sick people, researchers know a better option is a must; it’s just going to take some time to get there.
“Our current influenza vaccine programs and technologies reduce influenza infections and hospitalizations by 4.75 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively,” said lead researcher Eric Weaver, an assistant professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in the release. “There is no doubt that there is a need for more effective vaccine technologies.”
So when will there be a universal flu vaccine available for humans? Experts say it could come as early as 2020 or 2025. (Since the virus mutates so quickly, it’s tough to create a long-term solution.) But Weaver says “the ultimate goal is to be able to vaccinate once and provide lifelong protection.” Sounds like your tissue bill might be lower in just a few years.