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Child getting a flu shot Making effective flu shots can be challenging because the virus changes every few weeks. (istockphoto.com)

Your Last Flu Shot?

A new vaccine could put an end to yearly flu shots

By Zach Jones | January 29 , 2013

This year’s flu season is the worst in the past 10 years. That’s the conclusion of health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of America’s 50 states, 48 have reported widespread influenza, or flu, outbreaks in the past month. But a new type of flu shot has some experts hoping that flu seasons could become a thing of the past.

Each year, millions of people get a flu shot to protect themselves from influenza—yet many still get the flu. The flu season in the U.S. typically lasts each year from October to May. But the virus mutates, or changes, every few weeks. That makes it hard for scientists to find the right formula that would protect against each new mutation of the flu virus.

Now at least three drug companies are close to developing new vaccines that could fight the flu for years. Children would be given these new superpowered flu shots only once. Additional shots would then be needed over the years only to boost the vaccine’s strength.

One company, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, says its vaccine may be ready for human trials as early as next year.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Scientists think the new vaccine could work against all types of the flu and each of their mutations. How?

The current flu shot works by attacking the “head” of the virus. This is the part that’s easiest for the body’s immune system to identify. But it’s also the physical part of each virus that mutates the most. Scientists now think they have found ways to vaccinate against the parts of the virus that do not change over time.

“It’s like putting up a tent over your immune system that protects against rapidly mutating viruses, ” says Joseph Kim, head of Inovio Pharmaceuticals.

This new vaccine would even be able to fight some of the more dangerous types of flu, like swine flu or avian flu. In recent years, these types of influenza have created worldwide epidemics, or outbreaks. But now they could become a thing of the past.

“Our goal is to have a vaccine strategy that can protect us from all mutations,” Kim says.

Even though a long-term vaccine is not yet available, you can protect yourself from influenza today. Scientists consider the current flu shot to be 62 percent effective at battling this season’s strains. What’s an even easier way to stay safe from germs? All it takes is washing your hands often during the day!

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