3. Get Vaccinated"There’s no good reason not to," says David Shlim, M.D., a travel-medicine specialist. "It’s an insurance policy." In healthy people under age 65, the vaccines are 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing flu, and the risk of severe reaction is just one in four million. If you hate needles, request FluMist, which is administered nasally.
The most promising development is a universal vaccine that would work against all flu viruses, including emerging strains capable of causing a pandemic. Whereas the current vaccine responds to highly mutable proteins on the virus’s outer surface, a universal vaccine would work by targeting internal proteins that remain constant over time and among strains, so it wouldn’t need to be updated annually. It would be a boon to travelers, combating viruses circulating in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and in the tropics, where flu seems ever present. Plus, it would be available to U.S. consumers year-round rather than just during the winter flu season.
VaxInnate is developing a universal prototype that would be produced through fermenting bacteria—instead of the current method of growing the virus in chicken eggs—so it could be made cheaply and rapidly in huge quantities, "like making beer," Taylor says. "The cost of delivery would be much higher than manufacturing it." Clinical trials for several universal vaccines, including VaxInnate’s, are being planned now. But even if one receives FDA approval, it’s not likely to replace the old standard until its safety and effectiveness are proven over time.
Ultimately, the best use of a universal vaccine may be in combination with the old, to provide broader protection in case the three strains selected for the yearly formula turn out not to be most prevalent. It may also prove useful as a one-time, stand-alone vaccine in developing countries that can’t afford annual inoculation programs.
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