Trial Begins of Potential Universal Flu Vaccine

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May 16, 2023 -- A clinical trial to test a universal flu vaccine is under way, based on messenger RNA technology that was behind Moderna’s and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines, the National Institutes of Health announced.

The Phase 1 trial will include 50 healthy people between 18 and 49. It will explore the safety of the experimental vaccine and its inducement of an immune response, the NIH said. It also will be compared against shots currently available.

“A universal influenza vaccine would be a major public health achievement and could eliminate the need for both annual development of seasonal influenza vaccines, as well as the need for patients to get a flu shot each year,” said Hugh Auchincloss, MD, acting director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Moreover, some strains of influenza virus have significant pandemic potential. A universal flu vaccine could serve as an important line of defense against the spread of a future flu pandemic.”

The NIH says seasonal influenza, or flu, kills thousands of people in the U.S. each year. The CDC says between 12,000 and 52,000 people died of flu every year in this country between 2010 and 2020.

Currently, scientists must try to predict far in advance the flu strains that will dominate so that drugmakers have time to produce enough shots.

NBC News reports the dominant strains can change between the time of predictions and the time of production of vaccine, leading to a loss of effectiveness. Vaccines lower the risk of illness by 40% to 60% when matched well against the strains in circulation, the CDC says. 

NIAID researchers developed the experimental vaccine. The trial is using volunteers from Duke University in North Carolina.