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Cincinnati Researchers Developing And Testing A Universal Flu Vaccine

flu shot
Courtesy of Cincinnati Children's
A woman gets a flu shot at a Children's event in 2019. Researchers there are among the few locally and world-wide studying a universal vaccine for the virus that has multiple strains.

It may not be surprising that the COVID vaccine is more effective than the flu shot. Scientists in Cincinnati are hard at work developing and testing what would be a holy grail - a universal flu vaccine that would protect in one dose against all strains of the flu.

Blue Water Vaccines, based in Norwood, is working with scientists at Oxford University in the United Kingdom to develop and test a universal flu vaccine. Research has been somewhat slowed by the pandemic, but Blue Water CEO Joseph Hernandez explains the company will begin testing it in people next year.

Blue Water is using a mathematical model to protect people against all strains of influenza during their lifetime, as WVXU reported in 2019.

Hernandez and his researchers have done additional work with an evolving influenza strain out of China, the G4H1N1.

"It's primarily in swine but we've seen some evidence of the virus actually jumping into humans and it's got a really high mortality rate and so we're concerned," he says. "If the virus is able to propagate in humans it could be serious, even more serious than COVID-19." 

Hernandez says he thinks COVID has amplified the interest in vaccines in general.

Meanwhile, atCincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center,researchers are busy testing a universal flu vaccine developed by Mt. Sinai. Pediatric Professor David Bernstein, MD, says the vaccine did what doctors hoped.

"The antibodies that we got were indeed broad, so they neutralized a number of strains and that's the first stop and did last for two years," he says. This research was published in the Dec. 7 edition of Nature Medicine.

Cincinnati Children's doctors are also looking at other factors. Dr. Bernstein says when you are exposed to the flu as a child you are "imprinted" to respond best to that strain. "So when you're infected years later with some different strain, your body reacts more so to that original one than the new one and that's why we're not so well protected."

A new Influenza IMPRINT Cohort study will examine that.

Then there are other questions, like how the human immune system builds defenses against the flu. Cincinnati Children’s is playing a leading role in that. It is tracking flu exposure and vaccine response among 2,000 sets of mothers and infants from the Cincinnati area and Mexico City.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.