Searching for Vaccine Variability in Land of the Flu

by Stanford Medicine senior science writer Bruce Goldman, January 10, 2024

Part 2: This is the second of a three-part series on how Stanford Medicine researchers are designing vaccines that protect people from not merely individual viral strains but broad ranges of them. The ultimate goal: a vaccine with coverage so broad it can protect against viruses never before encountered.

The series opener focused on why having vaccines that cover not just one strain of a single virus, but many, could be an invaluable advance. Although Part 1 focused on the COVID-19-causing SARS-CoV-2 as a textbook example, that strain-spewing microbe is just one of many viruses to worry about. Take, for instance, the old steady: influenza. Like SARS-CoV-2, the influenza virus is studded with molecular hooks that it uses to latch onto vulnerable cells in our airways and lungs. Analogous to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, the influenza virus's hook-like molecule, called hemagglutinin, is the principal antigen in the influenza vaccine. The hemagglutinin molecule's head is quite immunogenic. Once antibodies have been generated, their binding to the hemagglutinin head can impede (or, ideally, totally block) the virus's cell-invasion process.

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