A universal flu vaccine is closer than you think.
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The flu vaccine is something many of us take for granted. Every year, starting in the early fall, “free flu shot available” signs start to line pharmacies and clinics – and yet in the US, only around half the population actually gets the vaccine. When talking about the flu, many equate it to a terrible cold, inconvenient at worst. But annual strains of influenza are estimated to cause hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide. The reality is, we’ve been living with influenza for so long that we often forget just how dangerous it can be.
The reason we need an annual vaccine for the flu is that it’s particularly prone to changing. That ability to mutate is also what makes it particularly good at causing pandemic-level threats. The last four global pandemics before Covid-19 were caused by an influenza virus. Experts warn that another one is inevitable and that our seasonal flu vaccine isn’t going to stop it.
For 80 years, the way we research and make our annual flu vaccine has remained the same. It’s a costly and timely process that involves predictions and chicken eggs. The result is a seasonal flu vaccine that’s certainly good enough, but we can do better. And now researchers are closer than ever to something new – something like a flu vaccine that remains effective year after year, regardless of the strain. Something that could stop an outbreak before it starts; something like a universal flu vaccine.
Further reading that I found helpful:
For more on previous Flu Pandemics, which is interesting background on how dangerous the flu virus actually is:
For more on how the Flu virus mutates, which helped me better understand how complex this virus is:
Here are some updates on universal flu vaccines in development and some of the challenges they face:
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