If you’re like the rest of America, it’s hard to get away from talk of the flu. At the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) last count, every state in the country had reported influenza activity, with 47 states reporting that activity as widespread.
Hopefully by now you’ve gotten your flu shot. And if you did, we here at Health Talk hope the process was quick and painless. But have you ever wondered why we haven’t developed an influenza vaccine that offers lasting protection, year after year? If so, National Geographic’s Katherine Hobson wondered the same thing, and dove into finding an answer. As it turns out, that answer has a lot to do with how the influenza virus behaves.
Hobson writes, “[The flu] mutates all the time, and it can combine with other flu strains to regularly make new variants. Those kinds of changes happen so frequently that the body’s immune system won’t necessarily recognize this year’s iteration of the flu as a dangerous threat – even if you suffered from or were vaccinated against last year’s threat.”
Vanderbilt University’s William Schaffner, the past president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, described it as if the flu virus is “putting on a new sport coat every winter.”
Earlier this year, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy issued a report citing the need for “game-changing influenza vaccines,” pointing to lower-than-optimal effectiveness rates for the current batch. This year, the CDC estimates vaccine effectiveness at 62 percent. Hobson quotes University of Minnesota infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., as of the opinion that we can – and should – do better.
But how will we get there? Check out Hobson’s piece from yesterday’s National Geographic Daily News for some insight into current research approaches.