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Practices sign up to trial for universal flu vaccine

More than 800 patients from GP practices in Berkshire and Oxfordshire have joined the world’s first NHS flu trial for a universal vaccine which could have a ‘major impact’ in cutting deaths from flu worldwide.

The patients from six practices signed up after the first stage of the study launched last October and more will be recruited later this year.

The trial is testing if giving the new vaccine to over 65s at the same time as the existing one could be more effective.

Current vaccines are only effective in 30% to 40% of over 65s.

It comes as Public Health England said this year’s flu outbreak was the worst since 2011 and has claimed the lives of 120 patients.

GPs saw a 42% increase in consultations from patients with flu last week, according to Public Heath England’s weekly flu report.

Researchers from Oxford University hope to recruit 1,000 patients by the end of next winter. If successful they think the new vaccine could have a ‘major impact in the worldwide fight against the virus’, which affects a billion people a year, claiming the lives of 250,000 to 500,000 annually.

The new vaccine, which was developed at the university’s Jenner Institute with spin-off Vaccitech, is using a different mechanism to get the body to fight back against the flu virus.

Conventional influenza vaccines use parts of the virus’s outer shell, which the influenza virus is constantly changing, forcing scientists to update vaccines search year.

The new vaccine stimulates the immune system to boost the number of influenza-specific T-cells, instead of antibodies, that kill the virus as it tries to spread throughout the body.

Previous research found that these T-cells can help fight more than one type of flu virus because they recognise core proteins within the virus that, unlike those on the surface, do not change year-on year.

The research team hope the new vaccine could be a longer-term line of defence, protecting more people and reducing the severity and duration of flu.

Professor Chris Butler, director of Oxford University’s Primary Care and Vaccines Clinical Trials Unit, said: ‘An influenza vaccine that gets around the flu virus’s ability to alter its outer shell season-by-season would be a huge step forward in saving lives, and indeed would make a major contribution to the sustainability of the NHS and health services around the world.’

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