As people gear up for another flu season, researchers are working to develop a flu vaccine that will combat most, and potentially, all types of influenza. National Institutes of Health flu researcher Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC News that a group of 150 leading scientists have been working since last summer to learn how to make a vaccine protecting that will be effective against a wide range of flu viruses.
Dr. Fauci said that the hope is to develop a single-dose shot that could last for five or ten years instead of the annual fall flu shot that most people receive. This “super-shot” is being designed by researchers who are discovering how flu manages to deceive human immune defenses and infect the body. Some progress has already been made, Scripps Research Institute biologist Ian Wilson told ABC.
Part of the motivation for the NIH’s National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases is the 100th anniversary of the 1918 worldwide influenza pandemic. The 1918 flu developed during the first World War and infected as many as 500 people worldwide, or one in three people alive at the time. Researchers estimate that as many as 50 million may have died in the worldwide catastrophe.
The group of researchers developing the new broad-spectrum flu vaccine hope that their efforts won’t just eliminate the ritual of annual flu shots. Protection against a deadly flu outbreak similar to the one that occurred 100 years ago is another motivating factor for Dr. Fauci and the NIH as well.
Flu is a “shape-shifting” virus that changes from season to season, and this season could be more serious than previous years. A 10-year-old Connecticut boy and a Dayton, Ohio 4-year-old who recently died from the flu bring the total of children who have died from influenza this year to 20, according to ABC News. A Texas school district has canceled all classes for a week after hundreds of students came down with the flu in one of the country’s worst outbreaks. The elderly are often at-risk of serious illness or death from the flu, but in California alone, 42 people under age 65 have died, according to state public health officials.
A new universal vaccine could change these figures and save lives, according to Dr. Fauci. The CDC is holding an emergency meeting about the winter flu deaths this week, according to ABC.