Published: Wed, November 08, 2017
Medicine | By Melba Vasquez

Universal Flu Vaccine In The Works


Scientists are working to make annual flu shots a thing of the past with a universal flu vaccine that would protect against most or all seasonal and pandemic strains. The 2016-2017 vaccine was only 43 percent effective against the predominant influenza A H3N2 strain, and protection has been nearly as low in other years.

The flu vaccine is readily available at many locations throughout the community, including local pharmacies and health care providers' offices. Second, because flu viruses are constantly changing, vaccines are updated annually to keep up with the changing viruses.

Although the flu vaccine is not flawless and some people who get vaccinated may still get the flu, it's possible that the vaccination may make symptoms milder.

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Last year's influenza vaccine reduced the number of flu-related visits to the doctor by 42 percent, and the vaccine reduced a specific strain of flu virus by even less, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the H3N2 flu strains do not adapt to the egg cells.

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania blames a mutation in the H3N2 flu strain. The eggs are then allowed to incubate, and in turn, this allows the virus to replicate. And this is apparently causing problems with the end product. This year, it was a particularly bad flu season in Australia with H3N2 strains being most prevalent.

These COBRA vaccines were created to recognize all H3N2 circulating strains over multiple seasons.

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Scientific American explains all the medical details very simply - In 2014, the H3N2 virus began wearing a new molecule on one of its surface proteins.

In the lab, they coupled the H1N1 virus with human antibodies - immune system soldiers that fight off foreign invaders. Current vaccines target the head, which is the part of the virus that's always changing in an effort to evade our immune defenses. Most flu vaccine proteins are purified from a virus grown in chicken eggs, although a small fraction of flu vaccine proteins are produced in systems that do not involve eggs. "Current H3N2 viruses do not grow well in chicken eggs, and it is impossible to grow these viruses in eggs without adaptive mutations", Hensley said. "When we compared that to a traditional flu vaccine either flu mist or flu zone we got superior protection and the mice were able to survive against 7 out of 9 lethal influenza challenges", Weaver said.

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