(CBS) Conventional flu shots protect against a strain of the virus that may or may not pose a real threat. Wouldn't it be great if there were a one-stop shot capable of preventing all flu strains? Wouldn't it be even better if a person didn't have to get the shot every year?
The chief of the National Institutes of Health says such a "universal" flu shot is in the works.
Dr. Francis Collins told USA Today that he's "guardedly optimistic" a universal flu vaccine would be made available within five years.
A few years ago, he said, such a vaccine seemed "completely out of reach." The flu virus is always mutating, rendering a vaccine from the previous year's strain obsolete. But recently scientists pinpointed parts of the virus that don't change - so if a vaccine targets that portion of the virus it should target all strains, Collins said.
At least that's the theory. Some researchers aren't as optimistic.
"I think five years is a bit ambitious, given where we are now," Dr. Arnold Monto, professor of Epidemiology at the University of Michigan, told USA Today.
Recent research on a universal vaccine has been promising. In February, The Guardian reported that Oxford University scientists had successfully tested a universal vaccine on 11 healthy volunteers.
In early July, researchers at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., also discovered a new antibody that attacks flu viruses, The Telegraph reported. By combining that antibody with one they found two years ago, they hope to create a vaccine that has "the potential to protect people against most influenza viruses," according to Dr. Ian Wilson, professor of structural biology at the Scripps Research Institute and co-author of the study published in Science Express.
Not only that, they said, it can be a "fast-acting therapy" to neutralize the flu virus in people already infected - something that would have come in handy during 2009's swine flu outbreak.
"The ultimate goal is an active vaccine that elicits a robust, long-term antibody response," Wilson said.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more on flu vaccine research.