The influenza disease has been notoriously bad this year, causing hospitals to set up temporary overflow units to handle the influx of patients, as well as many patient deaths. We listen to our doctors when they say we need a shot, vaccination, medication, etc. We don’t take much time to question filling that prescription or walking down to the lab to get our shot. However, in light of the recent events regarding the flu, maybe it is time that we take a moment to educate ourselves and make an informed decision about receiving the flu vaccination every year.
Hundreds of Strains
It is important to understand that the influenza disease is not one disease, but rather is composed of hundreds of different strains. While scientists do their best to predict what strains will be most prevalent in any given flu season year, it is more or less a guessing game due to the vast array of combinations that can emerge. This has long been the answer to why the flu vaccine doesn’t always work, also known as the “mismatch excuse”. However, in recent years where the vaccine did accurately match up with the strains in circulation, we found that the vaccine still did not work well. Scientists say the reason for this stems back to the way the flu vaccine is manufactured.
Would you be surprised to know that the flu vaccine is manufactured in chicken eggs? The process of making flu shot starts by injecting a chicken egg with the virus. As the virus is incubated inside the egg the virus is often changed while in the host environment. These egg-adapted changes can cause proteins to form that could deter or block an immune response in humans. When the vaccine closely matches the circulating virus it has shown to have a 40% to 60% reduction in getting the flu or symptoms. For the 2017 – 2018 flu season the vaccine is being reported as 10-20% effective. Scientists have developed “cell-based” versions of the flu vaccine which does not use eggs but animal cells. Major vaccines like chickenpox, polio, hepatitis and rubella all use the “cell-based” process. However, “cell-based” can double the cost of production versus the standard egg vaccines. Those that have egg allergies need to follow guidelines set forth by the CDC before receiving any flu vaccine.
Human Bodies are Complex Systems
The flu vaccine essentially “teaches” your immune system to recognize and kill the flu virus. While your body may do a good job of this, it does not kill every strand present and a few may survive. The flu virus is resilient and unique and has “antigenic drift”, or the ability to rapidly mutate in response to the antibodies in your body. Therefore, allowing the new mutated version to go undetected and thrive in your body. While the flu vaccine is believed to provide more protection from the disease than no vaccine at all, there are many other ways to boost your immune system and get your body prepared for flu season. For example, many doctors attribute getting lots of sleep, resveratrol and pterostilbene, vitamin D and probiotics to boost immune function. Talk to your doctor and make an informed decision that works best for you and your family.
CDC Flu Vaccine Effectiveness – https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm
CDC Flu Vaccine with Egg Allergies – https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/egg-allergies.htm
CDC Cell-Based Flu Vaccines – https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/cell-based.htm