As winter looms upon the world, viruses are preparing to wreak havoc on our bodies. However, individuals are opting to get flu shots to provide immunity against any future infections. Unfortunately, we need to get flu shots on a yearly basis since viruses are prone to mutate. These mutations often occur within the viral DNA, which is why a new vaccine is necessary for being created. But there’s good news, what if I tell you that science has been investigating new studies to ensure that we won’t have to get yearly flu shots anymore?
As stated in my other article on vaccines, vaccines work by taking an inactive form of a virus and inserting it into the body in the form of a shot. This inactive form promotes memory t-cells in the body so that when we encounter the live form of the virus possibly in the future, our body can get rid of as soon as possible. In a study conducted by Eric Weaver, a virologist, and his team, he understood these mechanisms of how viruses work and subsequently analyzed ancestral viruses of the current flu strains to create a functional, multi-strain vaccine. These ancestral viruses were pivotal to his research as they provide a group of fundamental genes that aren’t prone to mutate.
Weaver worked with four flu strains that are the most damaging and have the highest probability to cause infectious, contagious diseases. By inspecting the genomes of those four strains, they looked for common genes that they all shared. With this, they implemented those common genes into an artificial virus as a template. In order to create a vaccine for this artificial, yet powerful virus, they manipulated the genes so that it does not harm the host cells at all. These genes were then placed into a virus vector that causes the flu. Therefore, this process created the vaccine that contains the immunity of four flu strains.
The question remains: does it work? Weaver and his team designed an experiment that tested the efficacy of the new vaccine in comparison to other vaccines (FluMist and FluZone, the annual flu shot). In one group, they were exposed to FluMist, the other was FluZone, the third one was a low dose of the new vaccine, and the last group had a high dosage of the new vaccine. When all the mice were encountered by a flu strain, the FluMist and FluZone group died while the low dosage survived only seven of the nine viruses. The group getting a high dosage of the new vaccine were all able to survive—an indication that this new vaccine could be beneficial and effective in large amounts.
However, before we start rushing to the doctors to get this almighty vaccine, we must consider the implications. Weaver argues that this vaccine may not work with individuals age 18 and over because most people would have been exposed to “one-fifth to half” of the viruses in the vaccine and gained immunity. As a result, the body may target the vaccine instead, which is counterproductive. Additionally, we must understand that new development of vaccines is a long process and requires more tests as well as regulations. This is to ensure the safety of this new vaccine.
Yet, all hope is not lost. As more research is conducted, this can provide new weapons to battle the flu. Who knows, perhaps we can take a shot in eradicating influenza.
For more information on this study, click here.
A. Lingel et al. Efficacy of an adenoviral vectored multivalent centralized influenza vaccine. Scientific Reports. Vol. 7, Published online November 2, 2017. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-14891-y.
Editor: Maria ‘Stefi’ Ticsa