An emerging class of flu vaccines could for the first time allow for the first time prevent wide-scale spread of influenza by shutting down the virus’ ability to spread and mutate.
Princeton University-based researchers said that the new "cross-protective" or "universal" vaccines, being developed in labs worldwide and some are already in clinical trials, would make a bout with influenza less severe, making it more difficult for the virus to spread, Science Daily reported.
At the same time, the vaccines would hinder the virus' ability to evolve and evade immunity by targeting its relatively unchanging characteristics, according to HealthCanal.com, which adds that current flu vaccines "target the pathogen's most adaptable components."
Reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers used a computational model to show how cross-protective vaccines could even improve the effectiveness of current vaccines, designed to only fight specific flu strains.
Futurity.org quoted lead author Nimalan Arinaminpathy as saying the controlling the flu, currently more like "chasing a moving target," could switch focus from reactionary efforts to population-wide prevention.
"At the moment, vaccine programs focus on clinical protection for those receiving the vaccine, but we hope to eventually graduate to being able to control the virus' spread and even its evolution," said Arinaminpathy, who works in the lab of co-author Bryan Grenfell, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University.
"Because the flu quickly evolves to escape host immunity, current vaccines tend to be prioritized for inoculating specific high-risk groups such as asthma sufferers and the elderly every year.
"So, at the moment, vaccine programs focus on clinical protection for those receiving the vaccine, but we hope to eventually graduate to being able to control the virus’ spread and even its evolution.
"Our model provides a strong conceptual basis as to how and why the universal vaccines would achieve that."
The universal vaccines being developed targeted different viral components, but all had the potential to slow viral transmission across many flu variants, Arinaminpathy said.
Researchers from Duke University, the US Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health reportedly contributed to the study.