THE world’s first widespread human testing of a flu vaccine which researchers hope will protect more over 65-year-olds against the virus has begun in the NHS.

More than 10,000 people aged 65 and over in Oxfordshire and Berkshire will be asked to take part in a study supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and delivered by Oxford University.

The trial is a world-first and could signal a huge breakthrough in the fight against flu.

Researchers believe the vaccine could have a major impact on the worldwide fight against the virus, which affects about a billion people worldwide a year.

Current vaccines are only effective in 30 to 40 per cent of over 65s as the immune system weakens with age and researchers believe the new vaccine could increase this.

Professor of vaccinology at the university Sarah Gilbert said: “Every year, flu in older adults causes serious illness and sometimes death.

“We want to improve the situation, but in order to do that we need volunteers to help us test a new vaccine.

“If you are invited to take part, please consider doing so.” About 10,000 over 65s registered at six GP practices will be asked to take part in the trial which will take place in Berkshire and Oxfordshire this winter.

This includes 25 people who will be sought for extra blood tests at the university. They will receive the regular, annual immunisation in combination with the new vaccine, which has successfully undergone safety testing in 145 people.

Patients will not be told whether they are receiving the new vaccine or placebo.