Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

Researchers promise universal flu vaccine — yet again

3D_Influenza_black_no_key_full_sml.jpgJudging by today’s headlines, one could be fooled into thinking that the ever-elusive universal flu vaccine could be just around the corner.

In the latest study, researchers from the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute exposed 22 people to the H3N2 flu virus, half of whom were vaccinated with an experimental universal flu shot. According to the press accounts, they found that fewer people in the immunized group came down with the illness.

How many fewer people? What degree of protection does this new vaccine offer? Unfortunately, not one of the dozens of news articles includes any details.

Perhaps these outlets simply rushed to press? I rang up Sarah Gilbert, the lead investigator of the study, to find out the straight skinny.

“I can’t tell you that I’m afraid because the paper is submitted for publication and that needs to come out before we can go into any detail,” Gilbert told me.

So it seems this is just another incident of the media jumping on the possibility of a universal flu shot — something that even we at Nature Medicine have been guilty of. But in our defense, at least we’ve waited for the research to be peer-reviewed and published, and sometimes even publishing the research studies ourselves.

So, until the Oxford team makes its data public, we just do not know how well this new vaccine stacks up to the competition. And we in the media need to exhibit editorial constraint before rushing through stories that might falsely raise the hopes of the millions who suffer annually from this winter nuisance.

For added perspective on long-lasting flu shots, read this commentary by Gary Nabel and Anthoni Fauci, two leading vaccine researchers at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, from the December 2010 issue of the journal.

Image: CDC


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