The star of a famous children’s book may provide life-saving antibodies to protect us against the flu.  Why llamas may be just what the doctor ordered.



Breaking It Down

  • The flu vaccine prompts our body to create antibodies to attack the flu virus.
  • Currently the flu vaccine targets specific flu strains. But flu strains mutate often & sometimes the vaccines don’t match the most aggressive strains of the season.
  • The Goal: A universal vaccine that can target many flu strains at one time, giving us more protection.

New Research

  • Gave llamas the flu vaccine
  • Collected antibodies llamas produced
  • Combined the llama antibodies into a “mega” antibody capable of recognizing many different flu strains
  • Sprayed the llama antibodies into mice through their nose and the mice did NOT get flu
  • Goal: Do the same for humans.

“This approach is similar to antivenom.”

Ted Ross, University of Georgia’s Center for Vaccines & Immunology who cautioned the human immune system may actually attack the llama antibodies instead of using them to protect against the flu. Researchers believe humans might need to get several doses of the antibodies to be protected, raising concerns about whether or not we would build up immunity to the antibodies.

In The Meantime…

“Getting your flu shot, avoiding touching public surfaces (think elevator buttons, stairwell railings), and washing your hands frequently is the best way to stay safe – and what I’m doing!”

Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, ER doctor & author of upcoming book "Mom Hacks." Reminder: The flu vaccine, on average, is about 45% effective.

Why use llamas? Their antibodies are particularly small and easy to latch onto viruses like the flu. Meantime, 120 Americans are participating in a study to see if a vaccine that prompts the body to fight a variety of flu strains is ultimately effective.

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From Dr. Darria to

The main problem with our current flu vaccine technology now is that it can target only a single specific site on a single flu strain at a time to create antibodies (3-4 of these targets are typically combined into a “Trivalent” or “Quadrivalent” vaccine to target 3-4 individual strains). Given how many strains of flu exist and how quickly they mutate, you can see why this method just can’t be 100% effective.

Think of the flu strains like the different smartphones: current vaccines targeting only a single site on a single strain are like having only a single charger that will work with each phone; to be able to charge multiple brands, you’d have to carry many many chargers – and they’re constantly changing! Instead, this new study essentially created a “universal adaptor” that would target not just a single strain, but the vast majority of flu strains, because it targeted a mechanism that’s common to all flu strains (and that doesn’t mutate as much).  If it works, it would be far more effective than the current technology.

There are still many big obstacles; one of the biggest is that antibodies from non-humans (llamas in this case), could just trigger the human immune system to fight the vaccine. At a minimum, it will be several years – at the earliest – until we could see this (or other products from studies trying to do something similar) hit the marketplace. In the meantime, getting your flu shot, avoiding touching public surfaces (think elevator buttons, stairwell railings), and washing your hands frequently is the best way to stay safe – and what I’m doing! Darria Long Gillespie <>