Don’t like the flu vaccine? Here’s why you should be excited to get vaccinated every year.

We are now in the first month of 2020 and, luckily for us, influenza is no longer the scourge to humanity that it once was. We have a lot to thank vaccines and antivirals for, but while the situation has improved for many of us, it is still not perfect. And for many people that live in areas with vaccine shortages or limited access to healthcare facilities, the situation is far from perfect.

There are two kinds of influenza that cause significant disease in humans: influenza A and influenza B. From the outside, they look pretty much the same. Their basic anatomy is quite similar — both influenza A and B are made up of the same constituents and have an outer viral envelope that holds its genetic material inside.  

The viral envelope is studded with a protein called hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA). These proteins are what our body uses to identify flu viruses as an enemy. Our current vaccines help grant us immunity towards these viruses by targeting HA and NA. Flu season is both in the spring and the fall, so it is incredibly important to get vaccinated, for both the protection of yourself and your loved ones. Although it is a pain to get vaccinated every year, here are a few reasons why you must!

1) HA and NA are highly mutable. 

That means that the amino acid sequence that composes these proteins often change. When these sequences change, our bodies are no longer able to recognize these proteins as part of the flu virus. Because HA and NA mutate so quickly, we have to produce a new vaccine every year. Previous vaccines were grown in chicken eggs, which already proposes several limiting factors on the production of vaccines: how many eggs we can produce, how well the vaccine can be grown in eggs, spreading the supply of vaccines, etc. Repeating the cycle of creating a vaccine is time-consuming and costly. Our newest vaccines have moved onto being grown in cells instead of eggs. 

 

2) Not everyone can get vaccinated! 

Very old, very sick folks and very young babies cannot get vaccinated. That means it’s up to folks that are able to get vaccinated to protect those who cannot. Herd immunity is an incredibly important defense we have. The spread of harmful, infectious diseases can be impeded, or even stopped, if the vast majority of the community is vaccinated against the disease. Those that are not vaccinated and are vulnerable to the disease, therefore, have some protection due to the vaccination of the general community. 

3) The “flu” is actually more than just one virus. 

As I mentioned before, there are two kinds of influenza viruses: A and B, and they often co-circulate. There are several strains of A and B viruses, and the flu vaccine generally protects against two strains of each. So if you get sick with the “flu”, it’s actually only one virus! You could still get sick with another if you do not get vaccinated!

 

In short, getting vaccinated is super important! Scientists are working hard on making a new vaccine every year—make sure you take this annual opportunity to protect yourself and your community from the flu. The flu can rampage during both the winter and spring seasons, so it’s never too late to get vaccinated. 

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