The race is on for a ‘universal’ flu vaccine

For much of the United States, winter means cold weather, snow, sleet and friendly reminders to get flu shots. Indeed, vaccinations remain an important aspect when it comes to combatting a deadly and costly public health issue that causes approximately 23,000 deaths in the United States each year and global loss of life for up to 500,000 people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The impact of influenza is massive. Each year in the USA it infects up to 20 percent of the population and results in 200,000 hospitalizations. Given the magnitude of the problem, some might be surprised to learn the effectiveness of flu vaccinations varies markedly from year to year. For example, vaccine effectiveness was estimated at roughly 20 percent during the 2014-15 flu season, a dire situation that compelled Congress to hold hearings in February and November last year regarding the nation’s preparedness for uncontrolled flu outbreaks.

Last year’s low effectiveness rates for flu vaccinations did have an upside. The public has paid more attention to the scientific community’s quest for an innovative flu vaccine that will lead to lower flu-related mortality and hospitalization rates.

The race is on for better and broader flu vaccines

“Universal” vaccination is a broad term favored by media, but it speaks directly to potential vaccines that may one day broadly protect against all or most strains of flu virus. As reported by Science and Nature Medicine during August, progress is well underway, foreshadowing possible advances that are significantly better than today’s flu vaccination process, which is not only largely ineffective, but also highly inefficient.

The existing seasonal flu vaccination requires six months of lead time to develop the inoculation while relying on production processes that utilize 1940s-era technology. The end product typically does —> Read More