I recently attended a conference on Lyme Disease. We took a tangent during a wonderful lecture about immune system function, and explored flu strains and the vaccines designed to protect us from flu symptoms. I’d like to share with you what I learned.
According to research conducted at the University of Arizona and UCLA, it’s likely that our immune system confers life-long protection against the flu strains that we were each exposed to as children. Further, it appears that the hundreds of influenza strains can generally be categorized into 2 groups of infections. The strain we acquire natural immunity against as young children will often confer protection for us against other strains in the same group, into our adulthood, even if we’ve never been exposed to that strain before. It’s a double-edged sword though, since we’re now left entirely exposed and unprotected against strains in the second group.
How do you know which category of flu you’re susceptible to? Interestingly, the birth year of 1969 draws a definitive line between people most exposed to category 1 or category 2 flu viruses. Generally speaking, the research suggests that people born before 1969 have better immune protection against H1N1 strains of flu, and people born after 1969 may be better protected against H3N2 viruses. It means that the death toll in recent years dominated by H3N2 viruses is higher, since elderly populations have less protection against these virus strains.
The next consideration then is, can we choose a flu vaccine to protect us from that other category of influenza, so that we now have complete influenza immune protection? The answer might be yes, but some researchers suggest only perhaps as high as 10%. Vaccines appear to offer most of their protection by triggering our immune system to be more efficient against the viruses we’re already good at targeting. They tend not to protect us well from strains in the other group. At least for now. I’ve included some interesting articles for you about the search for a Universal vaccine. In the meantime, please work with your health practitioner and do what you can to keep your immune system up and balanced this winter season. (That’s where integrative and natural medicine really excels!)
 A closer look at the research outlines more strains in each virus category that are separated by approximately the 1969 birth year.
 When researchers criticize the flu vaccine for reduced effectiveness in a given season, it may have less to do with a “mismatch” of vaccine to the real virus that season, and more to do with how we’re each programmed to respond to only certain virus strains in a vaccine.