Universal flu vaccine is near and could potentially save billions of dollars each year and thousands of lives

Researchers say they are closer to developing a vaccine to give life-long protection against any type of flu, after promising trials in animals.

Two separate US teams have found success with an approach that homes in on a stable part of the flu virus.

That should remove the problem with current flu vaccines which must be given anew each year because they focus on the mutating part of the virus.

The proof-of-concept work is published in Science journal and Nature Medicine.

Studies are now needed in humans to confirm that the method will work in man.

In the meantime, experts say people should continue to receive an annual flu jab because vaccination is still the best way to protect yourself against infection.

Universal jab

Conventional flu jabs target molecules on the surface of the flu virus, but these are constantly changing.

Imagine the flu virus as a ball with lots of lollipops on stems sticking out.

The lollipops change year to year, but the stems remain the same.

It is the stems that scientists are now focusing on as a target for a universal flu jab.

The potential impact of a universal vaccine depends upons

1. its effectiveness against types of flu
2. the duration it would work and
3. the cost per shot.

A universal vaccine that was very effective 95%+ over more than ten years would potentially save over 200,000 lives each year. An average flu season has 250,000 deaths worldwide.