The beginning of February is here and the end of flu season is inching closer. We’ve still got months to go, though: Flu season often lasts from October through as late as May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and this is one is worse than usual. Part of the reason for this is that this year’s flu vaccine hasn’t been particularly effective. With spring approaching, you may be wondering if it’s even worth it to get the flu shot this year. The short answer? Doctors and experts say “yes.” Here’s why.
First, let’s review how the flu shot actually works.
Darria Long Gillespie, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine and head of clinical strategy at Sharecare, explains that it exposes your body to a small amount of “inactivated” or non-infectious viruses. There are also “recombinant” flu vaccines, which don’t include any flu viruses at all; this means that you can’t actually get the flu from a flu shot. Once your body is exposed to the vaccine, it creates antibodies for the specific strain of flu introduced, making you far better equipped to fight the virus if you encounter it out in the world.
What went wrong with this year’s shot?
“[The] predominant strain that’s infecting people this year is H3N2, and the strain that was put into the vaccine appears to have mutated while the vaccine was being produced,” Long Gillespie says. “So, the resulting vaccine is less of a perfect match to the actual infecting strain of flu, which is why more people are getting sick.”
H3N2 is also extra dangerous because it’s a less common strain of flu than we usually see. That means fewer people have had exposure to it and fewer people have developed antibodies to fight it. It also appears that more people are getting the flu this year (and experiencing more severe symptoms) because fewer people opted to get the flu vaccine than in previous years. Basically, all the conditions are right for a bad flu season.
So why, exactly, should I go get my shot now?
Though it’s true this year’s vaccine is less effective against H3N2, it still protects against multiple other strains, all of which can cause the uncomfortable body aches, nausea, and fevers associated with the flu. Plus, according to Long Gillespie, “The flu vaccine reduces your chances of complications if you get the flu, as well as lowers the severity and duration” of sickness — meaning, while you may still contract the virus, you’re likely to recover more quickly if you’re vaccinated. Learn more about the flu, the flu vaccine, and how to protect yourself right here — and, if you haven’t yet, go get that vaccine. It’s definitely still worth it.