Prime, Boost, and Broaden

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Science  27 Aug 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5995, pp. 1021-1022
DOI: 10.1126/science.1195116

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The need to produce an effective seasonal flu vaccine every year, coupled with the recent H1N1 influenza virus pandemic, underscores the importance of developing a universal flu vaccine. However, a major obstacle is the ability of the virus to evade the immune system, accumulating mutations that allow it to avoid recognition by neutralizing antibodies. The continual evolution of such mutations results in an ever-changing variety of circulating virus strains that ultimately render a vaccine ineffective. Each year, components of the seasonal flu vaccine are altered in the hope of matching these to virus strains that will evolve and circulate in humans in the months to come (1). This results in vaccines with variable efficacy—as recently as the 2007/2008 flu season, the seasonal vaccine was a poor match for circulating strains and afforded little protection from infection. In addition to mutations, entirely new viral proteins can be introduced into human viruses from the large reservoir of avian influenza strains. Thus, it is evident that a vaccine capable of eliciting antibodies that neutralize a much broader array of virus strains is needed. On page 1060 of this issue, Wei et al. (2) suggest that changing the way in which influenza virus vaccines are delivered, rather than the vaccine components themselves, may elicit antibodies that could confer protection from diverse viruses for years.