Why and How the Flu Shot is Reformulated Every Year

You know the signs all too well: coughing, fever, muscular aches, chest pain, headache, and fatigue. When flu season strikes — peak season is between December and February, but the flu can strike anytime between October and early May — kids miss school and workers miss meetings. Avoid the misery and potential complications by protecting yourself with a yearly flu shot.

Many vaccines, such as those for chickenpox, provide lifetime protection after one or two doses, but the flu shot is one that you must get year after year to remain symptom-free. The flu vaccine is considerably different than other vaccines. Read on to learn why.

How vaccines work

Your immune system produces antibodies that identify and attack foreign invaders. Vaccines help your body produce the right antibodies so you can fight a particular virus before it makes you sick.

Vaccines for polio or measles, for example, do a good job of priming your system to recognize the invader and produce antibodies that attack — preventing you from getting the disease even if you were vaccinated long ago as a child.

The nature of the flu

The flu virus changes much more rapidly than do other viruses like the measles, mumps, and polio. So last year’s flu shot may not contain the antibodies to recognize the latest viral strain.

Each year, the flu vaccine is formulated to attempt to isolate the strains that will be most prevalent in a particular year, in order to protect the most people. A flu vaccine actually contains antibodies to protect you against several seemingly prominent strains.

This explains why the flu vaccine isn’t always effective in preventing the flu. You may be exposed to a less common strain not included in the vaccine and still suffer symptoms. Or the vaccine creators may make a miscalculation and a strain whose antibodies weren’t included in the flu shot becomes most prominent that season.

The flu changes in response to your antibodies

The flu is unique in that new strains develop in response to the antibodies you create. When too many people gain immunity to the strain that is circulating, strains with mutations that can slip through this immunity start to thrive. This more resilient virus copies itself and spreads to other people.

Those who should never skip a yearly flu shot

While everyone older than six months benefits from a flu shot, certain people should definitely get one because they’re at greater risk of complications if they contract the virus. These include pregnant women, young children, and older adults. People with certain chronic conditions, such as asthma, cancer, cystic fibrosis, or kidney disease, also should make the flu shot a priority.

Practice other flu protection

Even if you get the flu shot, protect yourself in other ways from getting a strain of the virus. For example, avoid close contact with sick people. Wash your hands often with soap and water, scrubbing for about 20 seconds. Hand sanitizer is a good secondary choice when soap and water aren’t around.

Keep your hands away from your mouth, eyes, and nose as best you can. Flu germs like to enter your body through these portals.

This year’s flu vaccine is available at Washington Healthcare Center. Call the office or book online to schedule your appointment.

You Might Also Enjoy...

Here's How Your Doctor Can Help You Lose Weight

Weight loss is a complex metabolic process. You’ve read the articles that suggest you just eat less and move more, but that doesn’t always work. You need more. See what medically supervised weight loss can do to help.

The Building Blocks of a Low Cholesterol Diet

If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol or high triglycerides, a change in your diet is part of the treatment. Learn what the foundations of a low cholesterol diet are so you can reduce your levels and lower your risk of heart disease.

3 Lifestyle Changes You Can Make to Treat Hypertension

Hypertension is often controlled with medication, but you can delay the need for this pharmaceutical intervention with healthy lifestyle habits. Here are three of the most important steps you can take to control your blood pressure.