Patients are now enrolling in an early clinical trial to test a universal flu vaccine based on messenger RNA technology, the National Institutes of Health announced on Monday.
Scientists hope the vaccine will protect against a wide range of influenza strains and provide long-term immunity so people don’t need to be vaccinated every year.
“A universal influenza vaccine could serve as an important line of defense against the spread of a future influenza pandemic,” said Dr. Hugh Auchincloss, acting director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a statement Monday.
According to the NIH, the universal flu vaccine trial will enroll up to 50 healthy people, ages 18 to 49, to test whether the experimental vaccine is safe and will elicit an immune response.
The study will also include participants receiving a quadrivalent influenza vaccine that protects against four strains of the virus to compare the experimental universal vaccine with those currently on the market.
The universal syringe was developed by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. For the clinical study, volunteers will be recruited at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
The current generation of flu vaccines provide important protection against hospitalization, but the effectiveness of vaccinations can vary greatly from year to year.
Scientists currently have to predict months in advance which influenza strains will dominate, to give vaccine makers time to produce the vaccines ahead of the respiratory virus season.
The predominant influenza strains can change between the time experts select strains and the time manufacturers introduce vaccines. In some seasons, vaccinations are not well matched to the circulating loads and are therefore less effective.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu vaccines reduce disease risk by 40 to 60% when well matched to circulating strains. However, in some years the effectiveness of the vaccines was only 19% because the vaccination was not well coordinated.
According to the CDC, between 2010 and 2020, between 12,000 and 52,000 people died from the flu annually in the United States, depending on the strains circulating and the timing of vaccinations.