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The rush to create a universal flu vaccine

The vaccine would be more effective and last for more than just one year.

SAN ANTONIO — It's not too late to get your annual shot. But imagine not having to get poked every year. Researchers are working feverishly on a universal flu shot that would have you covered for years.

Dr. Jason Bowling, an epidemiologist from University Hospital told us, "As it stands right now our current vaccine is a mix of three or four viral strains, and because of changes in that virus over time we recommended re-vaccinating every year and it's because of that variability in the flu strains."

The yearly flu vaccines we get now target individual strains of the flu which are constantly changing. A universal flu vaccine would target the stalk of a protein called hemagglutinin. It is a protein on the surface of every flu strain which directs the virus toward the host cell. If you successfully attack that you have a much better shot at beating the flu. Dr. Bowling added, "That universal flu vaccine would provide a more durable flu vaccine and would last a longer time and hopefully cross protect against more strains."

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says a universal flu vaccine should be at least 75 percent effective, protect against Group one and two Influenza A viruses, have durable protection that lasts at least one year, and be suitable for all age groups. Dr. Bowling said, "You would have broader protection that lasts longer to try to get away from having this annual re-up on the vaccine."

But just how long could the vaccine last? The University of Georgia is working with the National Institutes of Health and several other institutions, to develop a vaccine that would last even longer, with one vaccine lasting five or ten years. But until researchers have success, annual shots are still needed. And if you haven't gotten one yet, Dr. Bowling says get it soon. He told us, "Even the flu activity is increasing now it takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to work."

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