Long-Term, Universal Flu Shot on Horizon - USA Today
By Dan Vergano and Liz Szabo, USA TODAY
A universal flu vaccine that protects against all strains may be within reach in the next five years, replacing annual shots developed for specifics flu viruses, the chief of the National Institutes of Health predicts.
Francis Collins told USA TODAY's Editorial Board on Tuesday that he is "guardedly optimistic" about development of a long-term shot to replace the one "you'd have to renew every year." About 200,000 people are hospitalized with the flu every year, and an estimated 3,000 to 49,000 die, making the flu one of the chief causes of preventable death in the USA. Collins cited the long-term flu shot in a wide-ranging discussion of many advances coming from NIH research. Amid budget debates now underway in Washington, D.C. that could also trim NIH's $31billion budget, he made the case for research investments that improve the nation's health.
A universal flu vaccine "seemed completely out of reach only a few years ago," Collins said. That's because flu viruses mutate yearly, causing small changes in surface coatings, which make old vaccines obsolete. Recently however, scientists have found "there are parts of the viral coat that don't change …. If you designed a vaccine to go after the constant part of the virus, you'd be protected against all strains," Collins said. A universal flu vaccine is "not a question of whether, but when," says Arnold Monto, of the University of Michigan. "I think five years is a bit ambitious, given where we are now." Scientists around the world are working on the problem. In February, researchers in the United Kingdom reported preliminary success developing a universal flu vaccine in humans.
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