Fashion you say? Yes. Have you ever wondered how the annual flu vaccine is able to protect you against the next year’s flu strain? When you take a moment to consider how vaccines work (you take a part of the virus or bacteria and expose your system to it so that, when your body comes into contact with the complete bacteria/virus in day-to-day life, it can recognize it as foreign and is able to fight it off before it makes you sick), isn’t it incredible that we can magically predict what strain of the influenza will strike in the next season?
Well, it isn’t magic at all. Here’s how it works…Much like those who follow fashion, there are people out there—members of the World Health Organization—who put their feelers out for next year’s ‘in’ strain of the seasonal flu.
Just like how, in the world of fashion, there is a “new black” every year, every year there is a new influenza. There are two molecules on the surface of the flu that change annually in response to selective pressures, just like the selective pressures of changing fashions. These molecules are called hemagluttinin and neuraminidase (this is where the ‘H’ and the ‘N’ come from in ‘H1N1’). So every year 136 national centers from 106 countries send local samples of influenza to 5 WHO collaborating centers (you can think of them as the fashion capitals of the vaccinology world, much like New York, Milan, or Paris). Then, in February, a meeting is held to decide which strain is most “fashionable” and warrants mass production of a vaccine to be distributed to pharmacies, doctors’ offices, and other “retailers” worldwide.
Click Here to learn more about this year’s unseasonably late Flu, the latest in 24 years!