The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has commenced an early-stage clinical trial to evaluate a universal flu vaccine utilizing messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. The vaccine aims to provide broad protection against a diverse range of flu strains and confer long-term immunity, potentially eliminating the need for an annual flu shot.
Building on the success of mRNA technology in developing COVID-19 vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer, scientists hope that an mRNA-based universal flu vaccine could revolutionize flu prevention. The NIH, which played a pivotal role in advancing the mRNA platform used by Moderna, emphasizes the vaccine's potential to serve as a crucial defense against future flu pandemics.
The clinical trial, enrolling up to 50 healthy participants aged 18 to 49, will assess the safety and immune response generated by the experimental universal flu shot. It will also include individuals who receive a quadrivalent flu vaccine, which guards against four strains of the virus, enabling a comparison between the universal shot and currently available options. Developed by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the trial is taking place at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
The existing generation of flu vaccines grants substantial protection against hospitalization, but their effectiveness can vary widely yearly. Currently, scientists must anticipate the dominant flu strains months in advance to allow manufacturers sufficient time for production before the flu season. However, the circulating strains can change, resulting in a mismatch between the vaccine and the actual strains, leading to reduced efficacy.
Flu vaccines typically reduce the risk of illness by 40% to 60% when well-matched to circulating strains, as stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet, in some years, the effectiveness of the vaccines has dropped as low as 19% due to poor strain matching. By developing a universal flu vaccine that offers broader protection and long-term immunity, researchers aim to overcome these challenges and enhance flu prevention strategies.
The ongoing clinical trial represents a significant step towards achieving a breakthrough in flu vaccine development, potentially revolutionizing the approach to seasonal flu protection and bolstering preparedness against future flu outbreaks.
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