A super-vaccine that could give permanent protection against all forms of flu is being developed by British doctors.
The once-in-a-lifetime vaccine could do away with the need for an annual jab, according to researchers at Oxford University.
At present, the current jab has to be given every winter to match different circulating strains.
If successful, the new vaccine could be a key weapon against a flu pandemic because stockpiles could be made in advance.
Official estimates of the impact of such a pandemic in Britain show it could lead to 750,000 deaths, with more than six million children affected, including 750,000 under five.
Lead researcher Dr Sarah Gilbert said the vaccine could be used routinely in as little as five years, once tests had been done to ensure its safety and efficacy.
She said a universal vaccine would drastically change the way flu vaccine is used.
‘With having to make new vaccine every year, there’s never enough to go around,’ she said.
‘With this vaccine, we could end up having pretty much everyone vaccinated – a situation more like measles, where you don’t really need it any more.
‘Children would be protected, we’d see economic benefits through reduced sickness in people of working age, and the elderly, who respond less well to vaccination, would be better off through lack of exposure to flu.’
Dr Gilbert added: ‘The current approach to influenza vaccination is unsatisfactory for use against seasonal influenza, and of little use when new types of flu begin to infect humans from birds.
‘It leaves manufacturers with a few months to produce the necessary stocks, the vaccine has to be administered to at risk populations within a short time window, and those receiving the injection will all have to be vaccinated again the following year.’
The latest approach follows successful tests of another universal vaccine by scientists at Cambridge biotech firm Acambis.
Trials on healthy adults in the U.S. showed the jab is safe, causing no side effects other than the occasional red arm and high temperature associated with all vaccines.