Scientists have successfully completed the first trials of a new flu vaccine that could provide immunity against all known strains of flu and may offer life-long immunity.
People currently have to have vaccine in injections every year to cope with variants of the influenza virus and mutations that render the old vaccines useless.
The research team, led by Dr Sarah Gilbert of the Jenner Institute at Oxford University in the UK, has developed and tested a new vaccine.
Hot Discussion: Vaccination
The new vaccine targets vital proteins located well inside the flu virus that constitute a fundamental building block for the virus. The protein hasn’t changed for 40 years and appears unlikely to change. These internal proteins that are common across all strains.
In the past the vaccines have targeted proteins that serve on the virus’s external coat, and which are far more liable to mutate.
The new vaccine targets two proteins inside the flu virus that are far more similar between strains and less liable to change over time. The targeted protein is greater than 90% identical in all strains of influenza A. The nucleoprotein is wrapped around the viral RNA. It is indispensable for the virus because the genome becomes unstable, if the nucleoprotein isn’t present.
The researchers have noted that the virus can not be separated from it and it has a very special and vital function. The protein is a structural protein which forms part of the inside of the tank around the virus. If it mutates, it will not work.
The problem with flu is that there are several different strains and they keep changing and mutating. Occasionally a new strain one comes out of wildfowl or pigs and human’s not immune to it. New vaccines cannot be made quickly enough to cope and it’s very expensive for the patients which may require annual vaccinations.
If there new vaccine is a success it would imply that influenza could be vaccinated against like other diseases like tetanus.
For the trial 11 healthy volunteers were provided with the vaccine and then infected with the virus, along with 11 non-vaccinated volunteers. The vaccine boosts the issue of the body’s T-cells. These are material to the body’s immune response, identifying and destroying cells infected by a virus. The volunteers’ symptoms were monitored twice a day, including runny noses, incidence of coughs and sore throats, and how much mucus they produced.
The results, though only from a very limited sample, showed that the vaccinated volunteers were least likely to develop flu and also showing a boost in T-cells. The next step a field trial involving several thousand people and more rigorous testing. It will take several more years, therefore, before Gilbert’s vaccine can be licensed for use alongside traditional, antibody-inducing vaccines.
If successful and the vaccine was widely used, such a universal flu vaccine could help to prevent future pandemics, such as the recent bird flu and swine flu outbreaks that had taken place in recent years, and end the need to establish a seasonal flu jab. It would likewise avoid the annual process of drafting a seasonal vaccine that takes at least four months. If the flu strain is highly pathogenic – as occurred in 1918 when millions of people were killed – the delay could mean thousands of people could die or get sick before the vaccine had been prepared, tested and was available in sufficient quantities to be effective.
The researchers indicated that the trial proved two important things about the vaccine. It showed that it was safe; and giving people flu virus in the existence of lots of T-cells induced by the vaccine was absolutely fine.
It is hoped that the vaccine could provide better protection against flu for older people who’ve less efficient immune systems aren’t as good at making new antibodies. What the researchers are attempting to do with our T-cell vaccine is re-activate the T-cell responses they have already got on account of their previous exposure to flu.
And that’s an important point. Because the stronger your immune system is, the better it defends vaccine, you, or no vaccine.
A strong, well-equipped army (that is, a healthy immune system) is more able to fight off an infection than a weak, badly-equipped army (an unhealthy immune system).
Personally, every time I get vaccinated, I get the flu! I am one of the odd balls that doesn’t do the flu shot. I did, however, try it three years in a row.