25 November 2012
by Debora Mackenzie
Flu season has come early this year in parts of the northern hemisphere, and many people are scrambling to get their annual vaccination. That ritual may someday be history.
In a first for any infectious disease, a vaccine against flu has been made out of messenger RNA (mRNA) – the genetic material that controls the production of proteins. Unlike its predecessors, the new vaccine may work for life, and it may be possible to manufacture it quickly enough to stop a pandemic.
We become immune to a flu strain when our immune system learns to recognise key proteins, called HA and NA, on the surface of the flu virus. This can happen either because we have caught and fought off that strain of flu, or because we received one of the standard vaccines, most of which contain killed flu virus.