London: A new generation of universal flu vaccines has been designed, to protect against the future global pandemics that could potentially kill millions of people.
The vaccine, designed by an international team of scientists, has the potential to give protection for up to 88 per cent of known flu strains worldwide in a single shot, spelling the end of the winter flu season, the researchers said.
“The components of this universal flu vaccine would be short flu virus fragments — called epitopes — that are already known to be recognised by the immune system. Our collaboration has found a way to select epitopes reaching full population coverage,” said Pedro Reche of Complutense University, Madrid, Spain. “Every year researchers choose a strain of flu as the vaccine, hoping that it will protect against next year’s strains.” “We know this method is safe, and that it works reasonably well most of the time,” said Derek Gatherer of Lancaster University in Britain. “However, sometimes it doesn’t work — as in the H3N2 (influenza A) vaccine failure in winter 2014-2015 — and even when it does it is immensely expensive and labour-intensive. Also, these yearly vaccines give us no protection at all against potential future pandemic flu,” Mr Gatherer added.
Previous pandemics include the “Spanish flu” of 1918, and the two subsequent pandemics of 1957 and 1968, which led to millions of deaths.
Currently, annual flu epidemics are estimated to cause up to half a million deaths globally, recent reports from the World Health Organization revealed. In addition, scientists have also devised a US-specific vaccine with coverage of 95 per cent of known influenza strains in the country.
The researchers have applied ground-breaking computational techniques to design the vaccine. “Based on our knowledge of the flu virus and the human immune system, we can use computers to design the components of a vaccine that gives much broader and longer-lasting protection,” Mr Gatherer said, in the study published in the journal Bioinformatics.