The Quest for Universal Vaccines

Blog Post by: Lawrence Jones, Ph.D.

Universal vaccines may be a game changer for future infections. Researchers say a universal flu vaccine could be within reach sooner rather than later, although though it may be years before a vaccine is ready for human use (Farzan, 2020).Farzan (2020) mentions on National Public Radio (NPR) that: “in the future, one vaccination for a given pathogen could provide protection from multiple flu strains, and perhaps last longer than a single season.” Routh (April 3, 2019) reported last year that the first clinical trial of an innovative universal influenza vaccine candidate was successfully initiated and the main effort for now is to assess the vaccine’s safety and tolerability.

Ultimately, the objective is the vaccine’s ability to induce an immune response in healthy volunteers. The CDC (2020) estimates that the flu shot reduces your risk of getting infected by 40% to 60%, assuming the statistically determined strains for the upcoming season match the vaccine. The end of the school year for many schools across the United States will take place withinthe next week or so. Many discussions and strategies are already in the planning phase for face-to-face school interactions in the fall, as it reflects the various phases of easing state restrictions pertaining to COVID-19 containment. What will the fall look like for student and employee health?

Currently, influenza vaccinations records are, in most instances, a requirement for a child’s health profile. The 2021-2022 school year in the United States may be the first year where there may be real promise of a COVID-19 vaccine. Although a vaccination for COVID-19 is still six to 12 months away, the discussion of a universal vaccine has become even more important. A universal SARS vaccine for combatting future outbreaks and coronavirus infections will be ideal. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-1) is a contagious and sometimes fatal respiratory illness that was identified about 18 years ago and it looks like it is here to stay.

For most day care facilities, elementary and secondary schools, most likely, health updates and school records will require certain health standards as they pertain to vaccination records, necessary for school enrollment and employment. Conventional influenza vaccines are designed to stimulate distinct neutralizing antibodies to attack highly variable hemagglutinin antigens. Sometimes these seasonal vaccines are suboptimal for rapidly changing influenza viruses. Nevertheless, some protection is needed and new technologies for developing influenza vaccines are on the horizon. Achieving a consensus among scientists and health professionals on a common definition, “including scope of protection and clinical endpoints, may help to focus research efforts.”

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a branch of the NIH, says it will likely be another 10 to 15 years before a universal flu vaccine is on the market.Vaccines for smallpox, mumps and rubella are longer lasting but the changes and mutations in influenza and now SARS-CoV-2 will be a tough battle. Given the current need, is it likely that a universal SARS vaccine may be available before a universal flu vaccine?


Farzan, S. (February 27, 2020). Researchers Step Up Efforts To Develop A ‘Universal’ Flu Vaccine. National Public Radio.

Ostrowsky, J., Arpey, M., Moore, K., Osterholm, M., Friede, M., Gordon, J., … & Bresee, J. (2020). Tracking progress in universal influenza vaccine development. Current Opinion in Virology, 40, 28-36.

Routh, J. (April 3, 2019). NIH begins first-in-human trial of a universal influenza vaccine candidate. National Institutes of Health.

Reprint from the Hopkins Biotech Network:

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