Debunking myths on genetics and DNA

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Guest post by Amy Rogers: Why do I need a flu shot every year?

Today's post is by guest blogger Amy Rogers, scientist, publisher and novelist, who just released her latest medical thriller, The Han Agent.
When I was a kid, I got the chicken pox. In those days before the vaccine, this was a milestone in a child’s life. Once you survived the pox, you didn’t have to worry about getting it ever again. A single episode of this infection taught your immune system how to recognize the chicken pox virus and fight it off. For most people, this immunity lasts for life. Lots of naturally acquired immunity is like that. And most vaccines work for a long time. For example, you only need a tetanus shot every ten years.

So why should you get a flu shot every year? Are those evil drug companies just out to make a buck?

No. Blame the biology of influenza, the virus that causes the flu.

Influenza is highly changeable. It’s constantly mutating a little bit here and there. Small mutations in the virus’s two major identifying marker proteins, or antigens, are like a disguise. Your immune system is on the alert, watching for flu, but it fails to recognize the altered virus. Each year, each flu season, a slightly different version (actually several different versions) of the virus naturally appear and circulate around the globe. Your existing immunity against last year’s, or last decade’s, flu might not be enough to protect you this time.

Therefore, scientists keep an eye on influenza viruses in the wild year-round as they try to predict which versions are most likely to cause the next winter’s flu. Based on those predictions, vaccine manufacturers produce a cocktail of antigens for their seasonal flu vaccine.

A genetically engineered pandemic flu virus is at he heart of Amy's latest medical thriller, The Han Agent, defined "exciting as it is frighteningly realistic" by James Rollins, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Sigma Force series, and "absolutely chilling” by Barry Lancet, award-winning author of The Spy Across the Table and Tokyo Kill.

Amy Rogers, MD, PhD, is a Harvard-educated scientist, novelist, journalist, educator, critic, and publisher who specializes in all things science-y. Her novels Petroplague, Reversion, and The Han Agent use real science and medicine to create plausible, frightening scenarios in the style of Michael Crichton.

Get The Han Agent on Amazon, Barns and Nobles, Kobo, or iBooks.


  1. My mother gets a flu shot every year. I don't, but thanks to vitamins, healthy diet, and exercise, I've only had the flu once in the past twelve years.

  2. I had an uncle and aunt that did that. I've been lucky not to get the flu but about 5 times in my life, so have not taken the shot. Hope I don't jinx myself saying that lol.

  3. Ooh, The Han Agent sounds so intense. Congrats to Amy on the release!

  4. Is flu vaccine modified during any given season in order to respond to new strains of influenza? If, say in September, the vaccine is formulated to protect against Flu A, Flu B, and Flu C, would it be redesigned if a Flu D appeared in early November?

    1. Hi Mike, I don't think so but I'll double check. What I know is that the vaccine is designed early in the year so it can go into production by the beginning of fall. There have been years when they knew later into the fall that the vaccine wasn't as protective as they'd hoped.

    2. Gracias! You hear about "agile manufacturing" etc but that's not synonymous w/ mass production, either.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Hi guys, I wanted to thank everyone for the comments. I'd commented a few days ago but just now realized that my comments weren't getting published, I don't know why. Switching from Chrome to Firefox seems to have solved the issue ...


Comments are moderated. Comments with spam links will be deleted and never published. So, if your intention is to leave a comment just to post a bogus link, please spare your time and mine. To all others: thank you for leaving a comment, I will respond as soon as possible.