"We need to determine how many seasons this H3 COBRA vaccine will protect against all H3N2 viruses into the future in all populations of people". Flu vaccines are killed or highly weakened viruses that, when injected into the body, alert the immune system to fight the real thing. Hensley said this problem is widely known among vaccine experts, but it was particularly bad past year for the H3N2 strain of flu that dominated the season.
The low efficacy of last year's influenza vaccine can be attributed to a mutation in the H3N2 strain of the virus, a new study reports.
The idea is to use an ancestral form of the influenza virus in a vaccine.
"Our experiments suggest that influenza virus antigens grown in systems other than eggs are more likely to elicit protective antibody responses against H3N2 viruses that are now circulating", said Scott Hensley, an associate professor of microbiology at Penn.
Conventional vaccines are reportedly less than 60% effective-and that's only when they're matched with the now circulating strain.
This system does work-for many people, the benefits of the flu vaccine will outweigh the risks, such as headaches, soreness or allergic reactions.
During the 2014-2015 flu season, a strain of the H3N2 virus with a different outer layer protein emerged and this version of H3N2 remains prevalent today.
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But when Hensley and his colleagues studied the strain that ended up in the US vaccine, they saw that, mysteriously, the sugar molecule had disappeared. The flu virus spreads between people through breathing, coughing and sneezing.
Researchers have identified why the vaccine was only 20 to 30 per cent effective last year - and warn we face the same problem this year.
Due to the rapid mutation of the influenza virus, existing vaccines are seasonal; they're developed based on which flu strains researchers expect will be circulating that year.
The flu vaccine delivered last season was updated to include the new version of this protein, but Hensley and colleagues found the egg-grown version of this protein acquired a new mutation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each flu season the virus causes millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands or sometimes tens of thousands of deaths. However, most people have pre-existing immunity to influenza from a lifetime of previous infections and vaccinations.
"Every year the World Health Organization looks to outbreaks in the Southern Hemisphere to gauge which strains are circulating and how virulent they are", she said. "In the meantime, everyone should continue to get their annual flu vaccine".
Although the flu vaccine is not ideal and some people who get vaccinated may still get the flu, it's possible that the vaccination may make symptoms milder.