How Does the Flu Shot Work?

Ah, flu season. The coughing. The sneezing. The out of stock tissues and fever medication. And of course, the fear. Many of us don’t think about how serious something as “simple” as a flu can get, and yet it kills thousands every year. Health organizations urge people to get a flu shot not because they’re pushing an agenda, as some think, but because the best way to protect yourself aside from never leaving the house is to give your immune system a fighting chance. If you’re on the fence and need more information, here’s how the flu shot works (and how it can save your life):

1. Your immune system has specific “soldiers” ready to fight whichever invader is their specialty.
The main job of shots is to show your immune system an example of a possible invader. When the immune system recognizes that it hasn’t dealt with this kind of problem before, it creates antibodies. These antibodies have one job: fight off the intruder they were made to face. When you get the flu shot, your body is introduced to an example of the (inactive) virus and can start producing those antibodies.

2. The vaccine can protect against a few different strains.
There are three types of flu, two of which are what we vaccinate against. These are type A and type B, with type A being the more serious one. Every year, the World Health Organization decides which flu strains are the most likely to emerge the following winter, and a flu vaccine is created to specifically target those strains. Typically, the vaccine will account for 3 or 4 flu strains.

3. What the flu shot doesn’t protect against is new strains.
There is a limitation to the flu shot. While it will protect against the 3 or 4 strains that are most likely to circulate, it will not protect against new strains. New strains develop to take the place of ones we’ve been able to protect against. They’re often resistant to current vaccines, and researchers need to isolate their properties in order to create a new vaccine and do it all again next year. So, go get your flu shot, prep your body’s defenses, and keep yourself safe thanks to science!