UCF medical researchers working on flu shot that would last a lifetime

The 2017-2018 flu season is a particularly nasty one. This season's flu vaccine formulation has a relatively low effectiveness against the dominant strain of the virus that is making so many people sick.

But researchers at the University of Central Florida's College of Medicine are working on a vaccine that would not have to be reformulated every year and would protect you for life.

Dr. Kai McKinstry, at the UCF Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, has a hunch: that a change in the method by which people are protected against influenza may change everything in the fight against the virus.

"We're probably about a decade away, but we're getting close," he said. 

It's actually more than a hunch, and it starts with the way we are vaccinated for the flu now. A lot of very smart people essentially guess which strains will circulate months out, and they create a new formula every year.  Sometimes they get it, and sometimes they don't.

"It has been as high as around 60 percent, but it's also dipped well below 20 percent," Dr. McKinstry explained.  "It survives by mutation, and so it's always one step ahead of us."

The work being done at UCF has to do with T-cells, also known as "memory cells."

Once T-cells "learn" to recognize certain aspects of flu virus, they will naturally fight the virus. These researchers just have to get these specific T-cells to stay in the body, long-term, and keep watch.      When and if they figure it out, they say it will be a revolution in the flu fight.

"A flu shot that, number one, wouldn't require prediction, and number two, would give you stable, long-term immunity throughout your life," said Dr. McKinstry,  "and that's why a universal vaccine would be so revolutionary… we would not have to worry about that as much."