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Are Scientists Close to a 'Universal' Flu Vaccine?

MONDAY, Dec. 7, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists say they may be getting closer to creating a universal flu vaccine.

In an early-stage clinical trial with 65 volunteers in the United States, an experimental vaccine triggered strong immune responses to a wide range of flu virus strains and subtypes. The immune responses lasted at least 18 months, according to the researchers at Mount Sinai Health System, in New York City.

The vaccine produces antibodies that target the part of the surface protein of the influenza virus known to neutralize different influenza strains, the researchers said.

This chimeric hemagglutinin-based vaccine could provide long-term protection with two or three immunizations, eliminating the need for annual vaccinations, the study authors explained.

"An influenza virus vaccine that results in broad immunity would likely protect against any emerging influenza virus subtype or strain, and would significantly enhance our pandemic preparedness, avoiding future problems with influenza pandemics as we see them now with COVID-19," said study co-author Florian Krammer. He's a professor of microbiology at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine.

"Our chimeric hemagglutinin vaccine is a major advance over conventional vaccines which are often mismatched to the circulating strains of virus, impacting their effectiveness. In addition, revaccinating individuals annually is a huge and expensive undertaking," Krammer added in a Mount Sinai news release.

"This phase of our clinical work significantly advances our understanding of the immune response in terms of its longevity, and leaves us greatly encouraged about future progress for this potentially breakthrough vaccine," Krammer said.

Seasonal flu causes as many as 650,000 deaths a year worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. And flu pandemics occur at irregular intervals and can claim millions of lives.

According to study co-author Dr. Adolfo García-Sastre, a professor of microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine, "The beauty part of this vaccine is that it's not only broad, but multifunctional with stalk-specific antibodies that can neutralize many kinds of influenza viruses."

The vaccine could be particularly beneficial to low- and middle-income countries that don't have the resources or the logistics to vaccinate their populations each year against the flu, García-Sastre added.

The study was published online Dec. 7 in the journal Nature Medicine.

More information

The World Health Organization has more on seasonal flu.

SOURCE: Mount Sinai Health System, news release, Dec. 7, 2020

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