Universal vaccine could target flu virus 'stalk'

65-year-old Nebraskan dies from the flu, DHHS advises others to get vaccinated

The Public Health Agency of Canada estimated that the flu causes about 3,500 deaths each year in Canada alone. Illustration showing the flu virus containing eight gene segments. At some point during the development of last year's vaccine, the egg-grown protein acquired a mutation that reduced its effectiveness in warding off the live virus.

Yet because the influenza virus mutates rapidly and because people, animals and birds often carry the virus without displaying symptoms, it's been hard to develop a vaccine with long-term effectiveness.

"Even influenza vaccine manufacturers are recognizing that, over time, the egg-based production process will become obsolete and will be replaced with a more modern production process", she said. Current vaccines, which require experts to pick the flu strains that they believe are going to circulate in a given year, are typically 40 to 70 percent effective in the USA, though in some years protection is as low as 20 percent.

The idea is to use an ancestral form of the influenza virus in a vaccine. They only know at the end of the season if their vaccine was a good match. This induces immune cells to make antibodies that stop foreign invaders from infecting cells, readying them to attack flu viruses when the body sees them again.


During the 2014-2015 flu season, a strain of the H3N2 virus with a different outer layer protein emerged and this version of H3N2 remains prevalent today. It is believed to be the best protection against influenza and the complications that come with it kills about 1,400 people in B.C. each year, Gray said. The fact that the sugar molecule is chemically glued to a site on the virus's surface close to where human antibodies, our immune system watchdogs attach is important.

"To put this in other terms, our current influenza vaccine programs and technologies reduce influenza infections and hospitalizations by 4.75 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively", Weaver said.

An FDA laboratory worker injects an influenza virus into an egg, where it will grow before being harvested-one of the many complex steps involved in creating a traditional flu vaccine. It takes two weeks for the flu vaccine to reach maximum protection.

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