‘Breakthrough’ new universal flu vaccine may be ready by 2024, scientists say`

The new vaccine triggered high levels antibodies in all tests (stock photo)  (PA Wire)
The new vaccine triggered high levels antibodies in all tests (stock photo) (PA Wire)

A new universal flu vaccine capable of countering future outbreaks could be ready by 2024, experts have said.

In a new study, scientists tested all 20 known influenza A and B virus types on mice and ferrets.

The study, which was published in the Science journal, said the new vaccine triggered high levels antibodies in all tests and may help reduce the impact of future flu pandemics.

Like Covid vaccines developed by Pfixer-BioNTech, and by Moderna, the vaccine employs the RNA (mRNA) technology which tells the body how to trigger an immune response to a virus.

While the two-shot vaccine would not eradicate flu, it would give a baseline level of protection to diverse strains and reduce death when the next pandemic occurs.

John Oxford, professor of neurology at Queen Mary University, was asked if the vaccine could be ready for next winter, and he told the Today programme: “I think it’ll be stretching it but I would go for - I’m not a betting person - but I’ll put my cash on the winter afterwards.

"But we’ll have it and I cannot emphasise enough what a breakthrough this paper is.

"The two beasts of the jungle, the respiratory jungle, flu and Covid, they can be gripped I think by this new technology of mRNA vaccines, and that will help us tremendously in the years ahead."

Usual flu vaccines contain one or two so-called hemagglutinin proteins which appear in influenza viruses.

This new vaccine includes 20 different types in order to help the immune system trigger the correct response.

Although the vaccine would need to be updated every year, Professor Oxford added: “The potential is huge, and I think sometimes we underestimate these big respiratory viruses, I really do.

"So we have to get a grip on it, we’ve almost got a grip I think on the Covid, and I think now the influenza is the next big beast out there to tackle."

Dr Scott Hensley, one of the scientists behind the work, at the University of Pennsylvania, said: “The idea here is to have a vaccine that will give people a baseline level of immune memory to diverse flu strains.

"There will be far less disease and death when the next flu pandemic occurs."