Broader vaccine protection against flu and COVID-19

Credentials: Harnessing T-cells could lead to universal vaccines for flu, COVID-19, and other respiratory illnesses with multiple strains

School of Veterinary Medicine
Funding Agency
National Institutes of Health
Year granted
Rendering of an influenza virus

Researchers at UW–Madison have provided new insights into an alternative vaccine approach that provides broader protection against seasonal influenza. The researchers believe the same approach, which stimulates T-cell immunity, could apply to several other respiratory pathogens, including the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

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 a new vaccine does not have to be developed every year. 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 strategy addresses the Achilles’ heel of flu vaccines, which is to achieve specific antibody responses to different circulating influenza strains annually, by harnessing T-cell immunity against multiple strains. Researchers demonstrated in a mouse model of influenza that the vaccine provides long-lasting immunity — at least 400 days after vaccination — against multiple flu strains. The researchers believe the same vaccine technology can be applied against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The team is now developing an experimental vaccine against COVID-19 and conducting laboratory tests to measure its effectiveness in mice and hamsters, animal models for COVID-19.

Find out more at