Most people don’t think its necessary to get a flu shot. For a whole host of reasons, like does it even work or it may cost too much and well sticking a needle in you is never fun.
Then hearing you have to take it every year adds to the doubt. But here’s why you should.
Twice a year scientists evaluate all the flu strains spreading across the globe. With the goal to predict which population will be hardest hit during each hemisphere’s winter. This isn’t an easy task and has to be done consistently as the flu virus mutates quickly. So each season’s shot is a calculated guess at which strain of the flu virus will be causing the most problems. Sometimes the vaccine misses the mark, and you instead fall for a different strain of the virus. This isn’t the same as the vaccine not working. The vaccine works for a particular virus. Flu vaccines cut your chances of coming down with the flu by half. Vaccines aren’t miracle cures.
Also, the body’s immune system response declines over time, especially in the elderly, so a yearly vaccine is needed for optimal protection. The WHO estimates that the flu virus kills half a million people a year, makes millions seriously ill and causes the rest of us a really bad week if not longer. Even healthy people get the flu and spread it to others.
So how does it work?
Flu vaccines are either made of dead viruses or virus proteins to help antibodies develop. The process takes about two weeks, and you may find yourself with flu-like symptoms, but it won’t cause you to get the flu. Traditional flu vaccines (called “trivalent” vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. There are also flu vaccines made to protect against four flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine and an additional B virus.
Of course, some people don’t respond to specific vaccines. These people are called primary nonresponders. But they constitute a very low percentage of the population. Most importantly to note is that these vaccines are for the “regular” flu and not the one off pandemics that occur every few decades.
When in doubt and like everything we write about here on health. Always seek your doctor’s advice.