What is the Flu-shot and Why isn’t it 100% Effective?

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Influenza is a contagious respiratory infection that comes in a variety of versions or strains. These strains can change on an annual basis and the flu shot will protect users to up to three to four strains. Symptoms of the influenza, also known as the flu, can range from mild to severe depending on the individual. Moreover, the flu is known to target certain populations in greater severity than others, such as those who have a weak immune system, chronic conditions, the elderly population, or even younger children.

The flu-shot, also known as, the influenza vaccine is a seasonal injection given during the fall period. This vaccination helps to protect the body against the top three to four influenza virus strains most commonly circulating during that season.

What composes a vaccine aside from the inactive form of the virus itself, is inert (chemically inactive) ingredients. In fact, many vaccines can have inert ingredients. Types of ingredients that can be found in a flu vaccine are: preservatives, aluminum salts, sugars/gelatin, residual antibiotics etc. It is also important to remember, the flu vaccine itself will be providing patients with a “dead” form of the virus. In contrast, in the nasal spray is another form of drug administration in which the virus is “live” but in a weakened state.

Today, the flu vaccination is categorized as a public health intervention. Due to this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will complete annual studies with various hospitals and universities to determine the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. Herein lies the question, why is the flu vaccine not 100% effective each year? Typically, the flu-shot will act as 40-60% effective. The process of obtaining the flu vaccine begins with over one-hundred international and national influenza centers collaborating in a surveillance effort for which versions of influenza that are the most prominent. This data is collected and with the help of the World Health Organization (WHO) specifically. Subsequently, specific strains are chosen for that year as the most popular. Thus, with all the research, data, and group efforts to predict and perfectly align the virus strains sometimes a poor match can be made, and a different version of influenza will end up predominantly circulating in the fall in certain areas.

In conclusion, with support from multiple studies, the FDA, WHO, and CDC, the flu vaccination has been shown to have significant protective characteristics to the general population. Therefore, it is important we all take the steps to ensure the safety in our health and the health of others by obtaining a flu-shot during this season!