As we know, the flu is a slippery virus. It mutates quickly, and we’re supposed to get a vaccination every year to prepare for what’s out there.
The seasonal flu vaccine is usually a mix of the three strains of the virus that are most likely to hit us in that particular year. But scientists have long been trying to figure out a way to create a universal flu vaccine that would, like the vaccine for measles or mumps, provide decades of protection from the flu virus with just one inoculation.
Sounds pretty great, right? Only one shot for you and your kid. Today, a new study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows for the first time, that this universal flu vaccine might actually be possible.
The scientists have discovered that even though flu viruses mutate — shifting around and changing their proteins to evade the immune system — there is a “stalk” on the virus that does not change (or at least, by all measurements, has not yet changed). It’s a common point among all flu viruses.
When they used this stalk to create a vaccine for mice, the mice had resistance to multiple virus strains. Now the scientists are set to try it in guinea pigs and ferrets. Then it’s on to humans.
We already know that people who were exposed to a flu can have immunity to a closely related flu decades later. For example, those who were born before 1950’s, when H1N1 stopped circulating, were better protected when the H1N1 pandemic hit last year.
So if scientists can use this common area of all flu strains to create an effective vaccine, a one-shot deal could follow that would protect us from any flu out there, or any that come into existence later on.