That's earlier than the National Institutes of Health estimated in 2010, when they said a universal vaccine could be five years off. By targeting the parts of the virus that rarely mutate, researchers believe they can develop a vaccine similar to the mumps or measles shot—people will be vaccinated as children and then receive boosters later.
That differs from the current '60s-era technology, according to Joseph Kim, head of Inovio Pharmaceuticals, which is working on the universal vaccine. Each year, the seasonal flu vaccine targets three or four strains that researchers believe will be the most common that year. Previous seasons' vaccines have no effect on future strains of the virus, because it mutates quickly. The seasonal vaccine also offers no protection against outbreaks, such as 2009's H1N1 swine flu. A universal vaccine would offer protection against all forms of the virus.
"It's like putting up a tent over your immune system that protects against rapidly mutating viruses," Kim says. At least two other companies are working on a similar vaccine. In late 2010, Inovio earned a $3.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to work on the vaccine.
"It's a completely different paradigm than how [the vaccines] are made seasonably every year," Kim says.
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