Bad Astronomy

Is a one-time flu shot on the horizon?

The Boston Globe is reporting that scientists may have found an Achilles’ heel for the flu virus, one that would allow a vaccine to be prepared that need only be given once, not once every season!

The problem with vaccinating for viruses – one of the few real problems, not ones that are made up by antiscientists – is that viruses mutate. You can train your body’s immune system to fight a virus, but then the virus changes shape and can maneuver past your defenses. What’s new here is that scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have found a stable part of the flu virus, something that doesn’t change over time. Target that, and blammo: dead virus.

It’s not that simple, of course, and will take time to develop. But a lot of independent scientists are calling this a breakthrough. And even better, it looks like this stable component is in lots of different flu viruses, including the avian flu and the Spanish flu (which caused millions of deaths in the 1910s and was a major reason World War I ended; it killed a lot of people).

In other words, if this works out, it’ll be an incredible medical breakthrough. But that’s what medical science does: it keeps moving along, doing the needed research, finding the way medical problems actually occur, and then seeking out solutions. it doesn’t always work, but it learns from its mistakes. And the next thing you know, smallpox is gone. Polio is gone. Ignore it, or worse, fight it, and measles crops back up and starts killing kids.

The choice between science and nonsense is clear. Choose wisely.

Tip o’ the needle to Scott Hurst on Twitter.