Getting a flu shot. It’s now a yearly ritual for almost 60 percent of the U.S. population. Come fall, we are bombarded with reminders to “get your flu shot,” and for good reason.
In the United States alone, there are about 500,000 cases of the flu every year, with about 36,000 deaths occurring as a result. A “worldwide” or “pandemic” flu has the potential to kill millions of people.
But now, research is being conducted into creating a “one-time” flu shot that would eliminate the need to get the shot annually.
According to Middlesex Hospital Epidemiologist, Dr. Rahul Anand, “The possibility of having a one-time flu shot has become a reality, and could likely happen within the next several years.”
Up until now, developing the flu shot has been a game of hit-or-miss. Since the flu virus can mutate, experts have to take a best guess of what strains of the virus will occur in any particular year, and develop the appropriate vaccine to target those particular strains.
But current research into a “universal” flu vaccine has been successful in overcoming this guesswork to a great extent. By focusing on attacking the “stable” part of the virus, or “stem,” instead of the “unstable” part, or “head,” which can quickly mutate, researchers have made progress in developing more widespread protection from various flu strains than current vaccines.
Studies of the new vaccine are now being conducted in animals and there are several more stages of testing that need to be completed before the vaccine can be approved for use in humans and made available on the market.
Dr. Anand also feels that having a universal flu shot would encourage more people to get the vaccine, since it would be a one-time event, as opposed to once every year. If and when the vaccine is made available, Dr. Anand concludes, “This would truly be a game-changer.”