One In Five Americans Contract Flu—University Study Reveals Why Vaccine May Not Be Enough For Some Populations

You followed doctor’s orders and got your flu shot, but there’s still no guarantee you won’t come down with the virus.  In fact, one-fifth of the U.S. population (many of them seniors) will become infected with influenza, despite preventive measures through early vaccination.  Co-authors of a recent university study think they know why.  “We provide novel evidence of a potential connection between the baseline state of the immune system in the elderly and reduced responsiveness to vaccination,” say Shankar Subramaniam of the University of California, San Diego, and Bali Pulendran of Emory University. “By providing a more complete picture of how the immune system responds to vaccination, our findings may help guide the development of next-generation vaccines that offer long-lasting immunity and better protection of at-risk populations.”

How Vaccines Work

When the body comes into contact with a virus, either through drinking water, the skin, or inhalation, it immediately mounts an immune response to fight off the foreign invader.  Proteins are then produced that identify pathogens and protect against infectious diseases.  Vaccines essentially contain proteins found in viral strains that signal the body to produce anti-bodies.  These anti-bodies in turn, attack the virus.

The Study Process

While we’ve known for a while that the vaccine for influenza is less effective for seniors, it wasn’t clear why.  Using mathematical models, Subramaniam and Pulendran set out to identify the molecular signatures of immunity to flu vaccination.  Over a period of four years, they studied 212 individuals, (including 54 seniors) analyzing blood samples in search of molecular pathways associated with influenza anti-bodies.  Results revealed that younger participants produced high levels of antibody-producing B cells, while their elderly counterparts had high levels of monocytes, or immune cells that cause inflammatory responses within the body. “…These results suggest potential mechanisms by which changes to the innate response in the elderly may result in diminished antibody responses to vaccination,” Subramaniam says.

Before vaccination baseline levels of B cells, in relation to monocytes and inflammation was determined. “This supports the concept that inflammatory responses at baseline may be detrimental to the induction of vaccine-induced antibody responses,” Subramaniam says. “While it is early to suggest, supplementary therapeutic approaches, such as reducing the inflammatory response in elderly patients after vaccination, would be valuable avenues to pursue. However, this warrants longer and more detailed investigations.”

What Can Be Done

The body’s immune system is really quite remarkable given the number of viruses (and their different structures) it must fight.  When the body is stressed, undernourished, or exposed to environmental toxins the immune system is compromised. 

There are many things individuals can do to keep the immune system healthy.  Guidelines are as follows:

Stop smoking.

Consume more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  Refrain from eating saturated fats.

Get regular exercise.

Maintain a healthy weight.

Monitor and maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Wash hands frequently.

Consume alcohol in moderation.

Get plenty of rest.

Get regular medical screening for age appropriate conditions.

Boosting The Immune System Naturally

Nutritional supplements may help the body fight viruses by supporting  immune function.  Because many plants and herbs contain anti-viral properties needed to fight off harmful invaders, some can be effectively used for humans.


Promotes a healthy immune system through aged garlic, vitamins, and natural herbal extracts.

Supports immune function by enhancing natural killer cell activity within the body.

Purifies the body and boosts immune function by breaking down cellular debris and toxins in the blood.

While vaccination for the protection and prevention of influenza is effective in many cases, elderly populations may benefit from natural immune stimulating supplements as well.

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