(CBS) Could deadly shortages of flu vaccine become a thing of the past?
English scientists say they have made strides toward the development of a so-called "universal" vaccine to influenza - one that protects against all strains of the potentially deadly illness and which doesn't need to be custom-made each time another flu season rolls around.
In a recent experiment, scientists at Oxford University tested a universal vaccine on 11 healthy volunteers, comparing their risk for infection with that of 11 healthy volunteers who had not been vaccinated, the Guardian reported.
"Fewer of the people who were vaccinated got flu than the people who weren't vaccinated," lead researcher Dr. Sarah Gilbert told the newspaper.
That's potentially very good news, as seasonal influenza affects up to 20 percent of the population - and kills an average of 24,600 people - each year, according to flu.gov.
The experimental vaccine targets proteins on the external coat of the flu virus, the paper reported. Unlike proteins found inside the virus - the targets of traditional flu vaccines - these are less likely to mutate from one form into another.
If all goes as planned, the vaccine would enable widespread immunization against influenza without the expense and delays now associated with flu vaccine development.
"If we were using the same vaccine year in, year out, it would be more like vaccinating against other diseases like tetanus," Gilbert said. "It would become a routine vaccination that would be manufactured and used all the time at a steady level. We wouldn't have these sudden demands or shortages - all that would stop."
Stop, maybe. But just not yet. According to the paper, it will take several more years before the universal vaccine will be ready for commercial use.