Connecticut’s senior senator went to a health care center in East Hartford Friday morning to talk about why more money is needed to develop a universal flu vaccine.
“The best way to save money and lives is to get a flu shot,” said U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut).
We are reminded of that every year, but every year we also hear questions about whether the flu vaccine will be effective.
“Every year, we develop a new vaccine,” Blumenthal said. Every year, the docs and the researchers try to predict, part of it’s guesswork, what the strain will be next year.”
You’ve probably heard flu types described as H1-N1, H3-N2. The H and the N are proteins on the virus. There are 18 kinds of H and 11 types of N. Months before flu season starts, scientists pick the few H and N combinations most likely to show up, and design the year’s flu vaccine to fight them. But some years a different combination shows up, and the vaccine doesn’t work with that H or N.
“But a universal flu vaccine would be effective against all the strains and would eliminate the costs and unpredictablility of developing a new vaccine every year,” Blumenthal said.
A year ago, the National Institutes of Health put out a plan to create a universal flu vaccine that would target the things things all the strains have in common, instead of targeting those Hs and Ns. There are a lot of approaches they are taking, one involves nanoparticles, one involves DNA. They’re not there yet, but they’re working on it.
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Senator Richard Blumenthal says he has already helped secure around a quarter billion dollars to fund that research, and now he has introduced the Flu Vaccine Act, which appropriates $1 billion over five years for the universal flu vaccine. That sounds like a lot of money, but the flu has already hospitalized close to a thousand people in Connecticut, and 14 have died.
“And it’s all the more reason it’s incredibly important that we do develop a universal flu vaccine,” said Christina Morrissey, Director of Medical Services for InterCommunity Health Care. “It is fundamentally a cost saver if we can develop that. It would significantly lower health care costs.”
It might not be universal, but doctors say it is still not too late to protect yourself from this year’s chosen Hs and Ns by getting the current flu shot.