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Vaccines trick your body into developing an immunity by imitating an infection--they are made from a harmless version of the infection that causes your immune system to produce T-lymphocytes and antibodies. However, some viruses, like influenza, mutate often, which is why there's a new flu every year. Authorities have to make an informed guess which strain will be the most virulent. Trace explains the current vaccine-making process in this video.
But yearly flu shots might soon be a thing of the past: Researchers are working on a universal flu vaccine which would last you your entire lifetime. Most antibodies fight off infections by recognizing certain protein markers on the outside of viruses. These markers mutate and evade immune system attack. In the case of a flu, these proteins are called hemagglutinin (HA). Some people's immune system automatically makes antibodies that target something other than these these markers: they create antibodies called broadly neutralizing antibodies. In the case of the flu, the antibodies attack the stem of the virus's HA--not just the head. And because the stem is crucial to the HA, it's unlikely to mutate.
This new vaccine would help your body create novel antibodies that defend against various types of viruses. One of the best vaccine options they made had an artificial HA stem, which a person's immune system would learn to look for the HA stem and produce the corresponding defenses. Researchers have tested this new type of vaccine on rodents and primates and ,while the results are promising, it's still a few years away from human trials.
Universal Flu Vaccine Comes Closer, Scientists Say (BBC)
"Researchers say they are closer to developing a vaccine to give life-long protection against any type of flu, after promising trials in animals."
Virus-like particle vaccine protects mice from many flu strains (Science Daily)
"A new study shows that scientists may be able to create a 'universal' vaccine that can provide broad protection against numerous influenza strains, including those that could cause future pandemics."