Q. Can you tell us about flu vaccinations? I don’t understand how the vaccine can wear off so quickly that it’s required every year. What other vaccine acts like this?
How can we be so confident in guessing which viruses will be prevalent in the coming season? I keep wondering if the vaccine really makes sense, since I doubt that many people actually die from flu.

A. Flu viruses evolve quickly, which is why each year the vaccine is made to protect against different strains. If you catch the flu, your body will recognize that particular strain, but not the slightly different one that may emerge next year or the year after.
You are right that most other vaccines work for much longer than a flu vaccine. Those organisms do not mutate as rapidly as influenza viruses.
Because virologists have to predict which flu strains will become a problem many months ahead of time, they don’t always guess correctly. Nonetheless, the flu vaccine saves lives. Experts estimate that over the last three decades anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 people die annually from complications of influenza.

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  1. Karen

    >”because immunity only lasts one year.”
    Immunity only lasts one year, perhaps a little longer if you’re right on a healthy weight and younger, perhaps a little less if you’re overweight and older.
    If you got your shot in October 2010, immunity is likely to be wearing off just as the real flu season starts in Jan 2012.
    I’m in the camp that believes flu shots aren’t all that great, but they sure beat what happens to me when I get the flu. I can burn through way more than $15 in sick time from a case of flu. YMMV.

  2. Karen

    >I doubt that many people actually die from flu.
    Read a bit more history, and go back a bit farther than a few decades. From the Stanford.edu website, which comes up for me as the top listing in Google when you search on “Spanish influenza epidemic.”
    >The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War, known today as World War I (WWI), at somewhere between 20 and 40 million people. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351. Known as “Spanish Flu” or “La Grippe” the influenza of 1918-1919 was a global disaster.

  3. LT

    Earlier this season, the CDC said that this year’s shot contains the same strains as last year’s shot. Now they’re saying everyone needs to get the shot “because immunity only lasts one year.” This makes no sense for anyone who was vaccinated last year, does it? I had one last year, so I shouldn’t need another one of the same this year.

  4. Paul 43

    Where do flu”s come from or start?

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