Ever-Changing Flu Outwits Scientists Searching for Vaccine

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By: Templeton, David


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has made developing a comprehensive, long-lasting flu vaccine a national health care priority, but experts say the changing nature of the influenza virus makes it difficult for scientists to develop a long-lasting universal flu vaccine like they did for polio, smallpox, and rubella. Although eight researchers are working on a new flu vaccine right now, it could take about five years for human clinical trials to be conducted and a decade or more for a universal vaccine to be made available to the public. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says: “The universal flu vaccine is a very important goal. There’s been some proof of concept over the past couple years with modest success, but it is not yet ready for prime time.” Changes in the hemagglutinin protein on its surface enables the flu virus to prevent its discovery by the immune system, leading some people who were vaccinated during the current flu season to contract the virus. In response, researchers are looking to identify an unchanging segment of the antigen protein.

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