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As Americans begin pulling up their sleeves for an annual flu vaccine, researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison have provided new insights into an alternative vaccine approach that provides broader protection against seasonal influenza.

In a study published in Cell Reports Medicine today (Sept. 22), scientists describe a T-cell-based vaccine strategy that is effective against multiple strains of influenza virus. The experimental vaccine, administered through the nose, delivered long-lasting, multi-pronged protection in the lungs of mice by rallying T-cells, specialist white blood cells that quickly eliminate viral invaders through an immune response.

The research suggests a potential strategy for developing a universal flu vaccine, “so you don’t have to make a new vaccine every year,” explains Marulasiddappa Suresh, a professor of immunology in the School of Veterinary Medicine who led the research. The findings also aid understanding of how to induce and maintain T-cell immunity in the respiratory tract, a knowledge gap that has constrained the development of immunization strategies. The researchers believe the same approach can be applied to several other respiratory pathogens, including the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.