University of Nebraska researchers have been working to develop a universal flu shot they hope could become just another childhood vaccine instead of having to be vaccinated every year.
"The good news is that it's much more hard to drive mutations in the stalk, but it's not impossible", said David J. Topham, Ph.D., study author and the Marie Curran Wilson and Joseph Chamberlain Wilson Professor in the department of Microbiology and Immunology at URMC. Most of the vaccines we receive use purified proteins from a virus grown in chicken eggs, while others use antigens grown through alternative methods.
"It is important for high-risk individuals with health problems, elderly, or babies under six months old, to avoid public events and crowds in order to decrease exposure to the virus", Carrillo emphasized.
In the Northern Hemisphere, flu season typically begins in October and runs through April and sometimes, even May. Illustration showing the flu virus containing eight gene segments. Scientists are trying various approaches to better match vaccines to multiple viral strains.
A number of researchers are investigating different strategies to make a universal flu shot, including developing vaccines that target the "stem" of the hemagglutinin protein (which tends to change less from season to season) rather than the head.
The idea is to use an ancestral form of the influenza virus in a vaccine. 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 molecule is a type of sugar, hence the reason it's being called a glycosylation site. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the immune system to become protected.
"Our data suggest that we should invest in new technologies that allow us to ramp up production of influenza vaccines that are not reliant on eggs", Hensley said. Once it has been injected, these specific viruses trigger the body's immune system to go against proteins which move away from the surface of the flu virus.