A Universal Flu Vaccine?

It’s the end of October. Time for sweaters, pumpkins, and… flu shots.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone be immunized against the flu, starting now. This will allow the vaccine to take full effect before flu season hits.

This is especially important advice for seniors, who are among the populations most vulnerable to the flu and its complications.

And it is especially important advice for today, when the senior population is increasing by 10,000 people every day in the US, and when the flu itself is becoming increasingly virulent.

In 2015, more than 700,000 people in the United States were hospitalized with the flu; 56,000 of these individuals died. It was the worst flu epidemic on record since 2009. The 2017 flu season was yet more severe than the epidemic of 2015, causing more hospitalizations and deaths than any year in decades. And the 2018 season was the longest in recorded history.

Why is it so hard to protect against the flu?

One of the difficulties of preventing a flu epidemic is having a sufficient supply of an effective flu vaccine. It takes several months to produce a sufficient quantity of a particular flu vaccine. Therefore, in order to have a sufficient supply of flu vaccine available before flu season arrives, complicated mathematical modeling is used to predict the type of flu expected to strike.

However, these models are extremely complex: many factors can influence the type of flu which will eventually strike a population, and it is virtually impossible to account for all factors. For this reason, the vaccines are often less effective than expected.

Recently, a study led by Dr. Katherine Koutsakos, of the University of Melbourne in Australia and Dr. Peter Doherty, of the Institute for Infection and Immunity, in Melbourne, sought to develop a single vaccine that would be effective against all strains of the flu.

The research team’s starting point was the analysis of every different flu strain. Their goal was to find common factors between them. These common factors would then become common targets to attack.

Generally speaking, there are three basic strains of the flu virus: A, B, and C. The influenza B virus has generally remained unstudied, since it does not have the same epidemic potential as types A and C. However, by studying all three types, the researchers were able to find the common elements they were searching for.

The team’s research was aided by scientists at the Purcell laboratory at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute in Clayton, Australia. The Purcell laboratory specializes in identifying epitopes (viral targets), using mass spectrometry.

With the help of the Purcell Institute, Dr. Koutsakos and her team turned their attention towards a group of “killer” T-cells that were shown to protect against all types of influenza.

The team found ways to activate these T-cells, allowing them to markedly reduce levels of flu virus, as well as the inflammation of the airways that so often causes deadly complications. Their work was published in the journal Nature Immunology.

The researchers expect their new understanding to lead to the development of a universal flu vaccine. This vaccine would be far more precise and effective in our fight against the flu since no mathematical modeling would be required to predict the type of flu expected. Further, sufficient levels of an effective flu vaccine would always be available.

At the Regency Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers, we offer the very best of care in a patient-centered environment. This means ensuring that our residents are protected against the flu, and all other risks.

It also means following our residents’ health carefully, listening to them, and respecting their capabilities, while helping them to achieve maximum functionality and independence — and always maintaining the highest professional and quality standards in our staff and our facilities. Our 25 years of excellent care have led to us being awarded a Best Nursing Homes award by US News & World Today, a 5-Star rating by USA Today, and an A+ rating by the Better Business Bureau, among many other awards.

Contact us by clicking here to see which of our three facilities will best meet your needs or the needs of your loved one.