Kiwis granted funding to look for an end to annual flu jabs

Scientists have long been searching for 'The Holy Grail" of flu vaccines, a universal vaccine that would target all types of flu and could last for life.

Now Kiwi kids could hold clues in the quest, which would save millions of lives around the world.

Our annual flu jabs are adapted each year to target the circulating strains but it's a bit of a guessing game.

Now researchers in Upper Hutt are looking far beyond next year.  They've just been granted $4.6m for a new study that aims to help the global race to put an end to annual jabs.

It's being led by Dr Sue Huang of ESR and a team based at the National Centre for Biosecurity and Infectious Diseases.

"Every year we are chasing the tail of the flu virus," says Dr Huang, "So what we are hoping is to have this universal vaccine, we want to learn from the infant how they mount the immune response."

They need to enrol 600 babies from Wellington, Hutt Valley and Porirua areas and watch over the next seven years how their immune systems develop when they first encounter the influenza virus.

"What is the mechanism behind it, we don't really know and we want to understand it through this study so then in the future we can use this knowledge to create a universal vaccine that can last much longer."

The babies won't be deliberately exposed to the influenza virus, but if they happen to catch the flu they will be given a simple swab and blood test.

"ESR has made a significant contribution to influenza research under the SHIVERS programme, or Southern Hemisphere Influenza and Vaccine Effectiveness Research and Surveillance," says ESR Chief Executive Dr Keith McLea.

"Now we're taking SHIVERS forward with research into how a person's first exposure to flu viruses and vaccines leaves an 'imprint' on their immune system. There are huge implications for the design of a more broadly-reactive and longer-lasting vaccine."

Until then the annual jab remains to best way to avoid the flu.