A new ‘universal’ flu-COVID shot on the horizon, says local MD

Oct 18, 2021, 1:49 PM | Updated: Oct 19, 2021, 11:34 am
Flu vaccine...
(Photo by Christian Charisius - Pool/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Charisius - Pool/Getty Images)

The annual flu shot might well become a thing of the past as mRNA vaccine technology is being explored as preventative treatment for a number of ailments, one of which is the seasonal flu.

Mercer Island’s Dr. Gordon Cohen appeared on Seattle’s Morning News to discuss how future iterations of the COVID mRNA vaccine could become a “combo shot” designed to inoculate against multiple diseases at once, including seasonal flu.

He discussed the history of the flu vaccine and why there is demand for more successful iterations of the vaccine. He explained how relatively low compliance, as well as low efficacy, have made it necessary to develop new versions of the flu vaccine that leverage mRNA technology.

“There is some limited utility to the flu vaccine,” Cohen said.

“But what if we — and the question was asked 30 years ago — could develop a vaccine that lasted for a whole bunch of years, was more effective than 10 to 60%, and you didn’t need to get all the time? That was where the whole notion of developing an mRNA vaccine came from,” he said. “Scientists, the pharmaceutical industry, have actually been working on this for a number of decades.”

Dr. Cohen discussed an mRNA-based vaccine for influenza as a real possibility: mRNA vaccines were originally developed to treat the flu.

“People talk about how ‘this is new technology, and it’s never been used before,'” Cohen paraphrased. “Well, it’s true, in part, because it has never been used for an actual vaccine in humans before. However, the original research that was done started in the 1990s using mRNA technology to try and develop a flu vaccine.”

“The technology has been around for three decades now.”

Can I get the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time?

Cohen broke down the utility of using mRNA vaccines to treat flu within the context of current vaccine technology. The current issue with flu vaccines is that they are subject to the rapid genetic transformation of influenza virus, something which requires new flu vaccines to be developed annually, to varying degrees of success. The nature of mRNA technology is such that they could be designed around common, shared characteristics of mutated versions of the virus, belaying the need for annual shots.

Ultimately, a flu vaccine could be included in COVID shots.

“They have also tested a combo shot that worked against COVID, worked against RSV, which is one of the respiratory viruses that come up during the flu season, and against influenza virus,” Cohen continued.

“It was more of a universal vaccine, and they found that it was in fact very effective in animal models. The fact is it would be very helpful if we could develop a combo shot where we got just one, and it lasted for years and years and years, and we wouldn’t have to worry about developing a new flu vaccine every single year.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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A new ‘universal’ flu-COVID shot on the horizon, says local MD