Universal vaccine could end annual flu shots and eventually work for other viruses, too


Flu cases are on the rise across the U.S. as the season gets underway, but vaccinations for the bug aren’t always popular. Last flu season, the CDC says  just 41.7 percent of American adults got a flu shot.

>> Read more trending news 

Now the University of Washington School of Medicine is developing a new way to fight the flu, with a vaccine that could offer protection for years.

“I choose not to get the flu shot,” Washington resident Christine Booker said. 

Cody Hurde said his 3-year-old toddler is not a fan of the vaccine.

“She hates shots,” Hurde said. “She still cried a bunch, but was braver than last year.” 

This year, experts are warning about a severe flu season, and they’re already seeing a rise in flu cases in some parts of the country.

“It’s going to be a particularly bad one,” Dr. Deb Fuller, a professor and researcher with UW Medicine in the Department of Microbiology, said. 

Fuller said one reason for the spike in cases compared to last year is this year’s vaccine. 

“There’s a bit of a mismatch,” she said. “And a lot of that has to do with the flu, every season it undergoes significant genetic changes,” she said. 

>> Related: Want better sleep and a higher IQ? Eat more fish, study says

But Fuller is developing a flu shot, called a DNA vaccine, that could change the game.

“It is coming, this is the future of flu vaccines -- to have a universal flu vaccine,” Fuller said. “We really believe we can do better than to have to guess every single year what to include in the vaccine and hope it's a good enough match,” she said. 

The new “universal” vaccine uses genetic material of the influenza virus – the part that doesn't mutate – and teaches your body to recognize it.

“They go like little micro injections into your skin cells,” Fuller explained.

But you won’t have to endure a shot or any needles. Her lab developed a "gene gun" that loads up microscopic particles with the DNA into a cartridge, then it uses gas to push out the particles into your skin.

“Then your skin cells are going to start producing flu antigens,” Fuller said. 

Fuller is also working on developing a disposable version of the gene gun that would be self-contained and could be widely distributed.

>> Related: U.S. in top 10 of unhealthiest countries on the planet, according to one study

She says the gene gun doesn’t hurt at all, because the particles are too small for your skin to feel. 

The DNA vaccine is something Fuller says she’s worked on for 12 years.

Her team has already shown monkeys that got the new DNA vaccine were protected even from mutated strains of the flu. Their research was just published last week.

Fuller says it could mean the end of the annual flu shot.

“You get this and you should have immunity for many years against any kind of flu that comes about,” she said.

>> Related: Dr. Oz jumps into action at book signing, helping sick fan on the verge of collapse

The new vaccine still needs to go through clinical trials with humans. Fuller hopes it will be on the market in five to 10 years. 

Fuller and her team are already testing the technology of DNA vaccines with other diseases, like Zika and HIV. 


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation & World

Mary J. Blige receives record-setting Oscar nominations for ‘Mudbound’
Mary J. Blige receives record-setting Oscar nominations for ‘Mudbound’

Mary J. Blige shed happy tears when she learned she earned her first-ever Oscar nomination Tuesday morning. >> Read more trending news  “My phone rang at about 5:30 a.m. and it was my publicist, Amanda, and she was screaming,” she told USA Today. “And I don’t know what it is so I’m screaming and I’m crying!...
14-year-old accidentally shot, killed by older sister
14-year-old accidentally shot, killed by older sister

A 14-year-old Indiana boy was accidentally shot and killed by his older sister Sunday as they and their father prepared to go target shooting. Rex William Pruett was shot at his father’s home in Campbellsburg, a small Indiana town located about 50 miles northwest of Louisville, Kentucky. Rex, a seventh-grader at Orleans Junior-Senior High School...
Inspiration for 'Rosie the Riveter,' Naomi Parker Fraley, dies
Inspiration for 'Rosie the Riveter,' Naomi Parker Fraley, dies

The woman who many believe empowered housewives to leave their kitchens and enter the workplace left empty when men went to fight in World War II has died. Naomi Parker Fraley was discovered in 2015 to have been the inspiration for the “Rosie the Riveter” poster tha decades earlier had become the symbol in which women realized &ldquo...
Clotilda: Last-known slave ship uncovered after East Coast ‘Bomb Cyclone’
Clotilda: Last-known slave ship uncovered after East Coast ‘Bomb Cyclone’

Years of research and a particularly strong winter storm has led a reporter in Alabama to what is likely the remains of the last ship to carry slave cargo from Africa to the United States. Writer Ben Raines of al.com reported Tuesday that what is left of the slave ship Clotilda, “lies partially buried in mud alongside an island in the lower Mobile-Tensaw...
6-year-old North Carolina girl dies three days after flu diagnosis
6-year-old North Carolina girl dies three days after flu diagnosis

A 6-year-old North Carolina girl is the latest person in the state to die from the flu. Normally, information about her would not be released because of privacy laws, but her parents want people to know her story. >> Read more trending news  Emily Muth was diagnosed with the flu last Tuesday. Her parents, Nathan Muth and Rhonda Muth, took...
More Stories