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Breakthrough in the Fight Against Flu: Scientists Move Closer to Universal Vaccine

Flu Vaccine

Story at-a-glance -

  • During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, those who had more virus-killing immune cells, known as CD8 T cells, either did not get sick or had only mild flu symptoms
  • Researchers believe that getting a vaccine that prompts your body to produce more CD8 T cells may protect you from getting infected with the flu, or at least from having severe symptoms, resulting in a ‘universal’ flu vaccine
  • Vitamin D has a direct immune-modulating effect on CD8 T cells and vitamin-D deficiency may worsen CD8 T-cell deficiency
  • It may be, then, that the best ‘universal flu vaccine’ there is doesn’t need to be ‘developed’ or ‘created’ – it already exists in the form of natural vitamin D

By Dr. Mercola

Flu shots work, or more aptly often don’t work, because they protect against just three or four strains of the influenza virus – those strains of type A or type B influenza that are suspected to be the most commonly circulating in any given year.

The three or four influenza strains contained in annual flu shots represent only a fraction of the 200 or so different viruses known to circulate and cause flu-like symptoms each year. In addition, only about 20 percent of suspected influenza cases that occur during the flu season test positive for type A or type B influenza.

So if the influenza strains contained in the flu shot aren’t a good match for the strains circulating in any given year, it’s obviously not going to do you much good. Even the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states:1


During years when the flu vaccine is not well matched to circulating viruses, it’s possible that no benefit from flu vaccination may be observed.”

Researchers are unsurprisingly scrambling to be the first to develop a universal flu vaccine, one that would protect against all forms of influenza. A team working for pharmaceutical company Sanofi believes they may have discovered the secret, which, ironically, produces an effect similar to that of vitamin D.

A Universal Flu Vaccine That Boosts Your Immune System?

Currently, flu vaccines work by introducing a live or inactivated form of flu virus into your body, prompting your immune system to produce antibodies that may help prevent infection against wild-type circulating influenza viruses you are exposed to in your environment. It’s worth noting that even when the flu vaccine is well matched, it still has extremely unimpressive rates of effectiveness.

During the 2012-2013 flu season, for instance, US flu vaccines were only nine percent effective against type A (H3N2) influenza strain in people 65 and older. Across all age groups reviewed by the CDC, the flu vaccine's effectiveness was found to be just 56 percent—in essence, the statistical equivalent of a coin toss.

Researchers working on the universal flu vaccine realized that during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, those who had more virus-killing immune cells, known as CD8 T cells, did not get sick or had only mild flu symptoms.

Thanks to this ‘natural experiment,’ the researchers suggested that getting your body to produce more CD8 T cells may protect you from getting infected with the flu, or at least from having severe symptoms.2 “This provides the blueprint for developing a universal flu vaccine,” the study’s lead researcher said.3

Vitamin D Deficiency Is Already Linked to Low CD8 T Cells

The drug company researchers brag that they already know how to use a vaccine to stimulate the immune system to produce more CD8 T cells. However, they do not mention that CD8 T cell deficiency is already a known feature of many chronic autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and more, and is also found in relatives of people with autoimmune diseases.

Interestingly, researchers have revealed that vitamin D has a direct immune-modulating effect on CD8 T cells in people with early multiple sclerosis and in healthy control subjects.4

It has also been proposed that deprivation of sunlight and vitamin D at higher latitudes facilitates the development of autoimmune diseases by aggravating the CD8 T-cell deficiency.5 It may be, then, that the best ‘universal flu vaccine’ there is doesn’t need to be ‘developed’ or ‘created’ – it already exists in the form of vitamin D.

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Vitamin D Is Essential for Flu Prevention

Vitamin D is a typically overlooked and highly effective antimicrobial agent, producing 200 to 300 different antimicrobial peptides in your body that kill bacteria, viruses and fungi. So optimizing your levels will not only help send the flu virus packing, it can help prevent you from getting sick in the first place.

In contrast to what is known about flu vaccines, this recommendation has been steadily gaining scientific validation. In fact, there’s compelling evidence suggesting influenza, colds and flu-like illnesses may actually be symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.

Dr. John Cannell, founder of the Vitamin D Council, was one of the first to introduce the idea that vitamin D deficiency may actually be an underlying cause of influenza, which would help explain its apparent benefits as a flu-fighter.

His hypothesis was published in the journal Epidemiology and Infection in 2006,6 which was followed up with another study published in the Virology Journal in 2008.7 His hypothesis received further support and confirmation when, in the following year, the largest and most nationally representative study of its kind to date discovered that people with the lowest blood vitamin D levels reported having significantly more recent colds or cases of the flu.8

In another study, published in 2010,9 researchers investigated the effect of vitamin D on the incidence of seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. Over the course of a year, influenza A occurred in just 10.8 percent of the children in the vitamin D group, compared with 18.6 percent of the children in the placebo group. According to the authors:

"This study suggests that vitamin D3 supplementation during the winter may reduce the incidence of influenza A, especially in specific subgroups of schoolchildren."

How to Get Your Vitamin D Levels Optimized for Flu Season

Research on vitamin D is moving forward swiftly, so you’d be well advised to stay on top of the latest developments as recommendations are refined and updated. I will cover the latest developments here, so you may want to share this article with your peers.

First, it’s important to remember that sun exposure is the best way to optimize your vitamin D levels as your body has built-in “fail-safe” mechanisms that prevent detrimental side effects from occurring. Last year, I created a video to help you determine if you can get enough vitamin D from sun exposure in your area at different times of the year.

Based on additional information received, I now believe that my previous position was too strict... The good news is you can likely get vitamin D under far less ideal conditions than previously suggested.

The radiation from the sun that reaches the Earth's surface (and hence your body) is partially filtered out by the atmosphere. I had previously stated that UVB rays will only penetrate the atmosphere when the sun is above an angle of about 50° from the horizon, and that when the sun is lower than 50°, the ozone layer will absorb vitamin D-producing UVB-rays while allowing the longer, and more harmful, UVA-rays to get through, which would defeat the purpose of spending time in the sun.

This recommendation is likely too rigid. According to experts in the field, you can likely get sufficient amounts of UVB radiation when the sun is as low as 30 degrees above the horizon, or whenever the temperature is warm enough to expose large amounts of skin.

I thank John Hochman, MSME, for bringing this to my attention. According to Dr. Ola Engelsen with the Norwegian Institute for Air Research, the creator of a calculator10 that takes a number of factors into consideration to give you an estimate of how many minutes of exposure you need to produce the equivalent of 1,000 IUs of vitamin D, the sun must be more than 15 degrees above the horizon during cloudless conditions.

If you decide to take supplements to boost your vitamin D levels, based on the latest investigations by Carole Baggerly, director of Grassroots Health, the average adult dose required to reach healthy vitamin D levels is around 8,000 IUs of vitamin D per day. For children, many experts agree they need about 35 IUs of vitamin D per pound of body weight. Here, it’s important to remember that if you’re taking high-dose vitamin D supplements, you ALSO need to take vitamin K2, and monitor your levels via blood testing to ensure that they’re within the optimal range.

More Red Flags for Universal Flu Vaccination

Recent research on pigs, using whole, killed flu viruses, raises very important questions about the approach taken in the development of a universal flu vaccine. The study in piglets found that getting vaccinated against one strain of influenza raised the risk of severe infection with a related but different influenza strain.11 The researchers refer to this effect as “vaccine-associated enhanced respiratory disease.” Wisely enough, they recommend their findings “should be considered during the development and assessment of experimental universal flu vaccines.”

Specifically, while the featured study is centered on a universal flu vaccine that would work by enhancing your immune system’s production of CD8 T cells, others are trying to create such vaccines by trying to boost vaccine-acquired immunity by targeting “stalk antibodies.”

Researchers have learned that the stem or stalk of the main protein of the flu virus, called hemagglutinin, tends to remain fairly unchanged across the various viruses. This is the discovery that has resulted in the current search for a “universal” flu vaccine. Vaccine developers believe that by removing the head portion, namely the stalk—i.e. the dominant protein portion of the virus—they might be able to induce cross-reactive antibodies capable of protecting against virtually any influenza virus, regardless of whether it’s an H1, H3, or H5, and so on.

The recent flu vaccine research in pigs raises a huge red flag calling into question the validity of this hypothesis, however. After giving piglets an H1N2 vaccine, they were then exposed to the H1N1 virus in circulation during 2009. As reported:12

“Instead of being protected, the H1N2-vaccinated pigs developed more severe disease than exposed pigs that hadn’t been pre-vaccinated. When the researchers tested the blood of the vaccinated pigs, they found high levels of antibodies that attached to the stalk of the H1N1 hemagglutinin, but not to the head of the protein. … [the researchers] are still trying to figure out why this produces more severe disease. But the theory is that while the stalk antibodies can’t neutralize or kill invading viruses, they do bind to them. And that may actually help the viruses enter the cells and multiply to higher levels—the paper calls them 'fusion enhancing.'” [Emphasis mine]

So even if a universal influenza vaccine is created, it’s unknown if it will actually work… or produce unforeseen consequences like we have seen with flu vaccines so far. Avoiding a serious case of influenza is not about vaccination anyway, but more about maintaining a healthy, well-functioning immune system that will naturally assist you in staying well during the flu season and all year around. By following the simple guidelines outlined in this past article, you can help keep your immune system in optimal working order so that you're far less likely to acquire the infection to begin with or, if you do get sick with the flu, you are better prepared to move through it without complications and soon return to good health.

Protect Your Right to Informed Consent and Vaccine Exemptions

With all the uncertainty surrounding the safety and efficacy of vaccines, it's critical to protect your right to informed consent to vaccination and fight to protect and expand vaccine exemptions in state public health laws. The best way to do this is to get personally involved with your state legislators and the leaders in your community.

Vaccine Awareness Week


Mass vaccination policies are made at the federal level but vaccine laws are made at the state level. It is at the state level where your action to protect your vaccine choice rights can have the greatest impact. It is critical for EVERYONE to get involved now in standing up for the legal right to make vaccine choices in America because those choices are being threatened by lobbyists representing drug companies, medical trade associations and public health officials, who are trying to persuade legislators to strip all vaccine exemptions from public health laws.

Signing up for the National Vaccine Information Center’s free Advocacy Portal at gives you immediate, easy access to your own state legislators on your Smart Phone or computer so you can make your voice heard. You will be kept up-to-date on the latest state bills threatening your vaccine choices and get practical, useful information to help you become an effective vaccine choice advocate in your own community. Also, when national vaccine issues come up, you will have the up-to-date information and call to action items you need at your fingertips.

So please, as your first step, sign up for the NVIC Advocacy Portal.

Share Your Story with the Media and People You Know

If you or a family member has suffered a serious vaccine reaction, injury or death, please talk about it. If we don't share information and experiences with each other, everybody feels alone and afraid to speak up. Write a letter to the editor if you have a different perspective on a vaccine story that appears in your local newspaper. Make a call in to a radio talk show that is only presenting one side of the vaccine story.

I must be frank with you; you have to be brave because you might be strongly criticized for daring to talk about the "other side" of the vaccine story. Be prepared for it and have the courage to not back down. Only by sharing our perspective and what we know to be true about vaccination will the public conversation about vaccination open up so people are not afraid to talk about it.

We cannot allow the drug companies and medical trade associations funded by drug companies or public health officials promoting forced use of a growing list of vaccines to dominate the conversation about vaccination. The vaccine injured cannot be swept under the carpet and treated like nothing more than "statistically acceptable collateral damage" of national one-size-fits-all mandatory vaccination policies that put way too many people at risk for injury and death. We should be treating people like human beings instead of guinea pigs.

Internet Resources Where You Can Learn More

I encourage you to visit the following web pages on the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) website at

  • NVIC Memorial for Vaccine Victims: View descriptions and photos of children and adults who have suffered vaccine reactions, injuries and deaths. If you or your child experiences an adverse vaccine event, please consider posting and sharing your story here.
  • If You Vaccinate, Ask 8 Questions: Learn how to recognize vaccine reaction symptoms and prevent vaccine injuries.
  • Vaccine Freedom Wall: View or post descriptions of harassment and sanctions by doctors, employers, school and health officials for making independent vaccine choices.

Connect with Your Doctor or Find a New One That Will Listen and Care

If your pediatrician or doctor refuses to provide medical care to you or your child unless you agree to get vaccines you don't want, I strongly encourage you to have the courage to find another doctor. Harassment, intimidation, and refusal of medical care is becoming the modus operandi of the medical establishment in an effort to stop the change in attitude of many parents about vaccinations after they become truly educated about health and vaccination.

However, there is hope.

At least 15 percent of young doctors recently polled admit that they're starting to adopt a more individualized approach to vaccinations in direct response to the vaccine safety concerns of parents. It is good news that there is a growing number of smart young doctors, who prefer to work as partners with parents in making personalized vaccine decisions for children, including delaying vaccinations or giving children fewer vaccines on the same day or continuing to provide medical care for those families, who decline use of one or more vaccines.

So take the time to locate a doctor, who treats you with compassion and respect and is willing to work with you to do what is right for your child.