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Flu Vaccine Inhibits Your Heterosubtypic Immunity (and why the heck it's important)

Need one more reason to skip the flu shot this year?

people will do practically anything to avoid the flu

Annual vaccination against the seasonal flu is touted as greatly beneficial to one’s health during the ominous flu season, especially for those people at high risk – particularly our children.

Over the last 2 weeks we were blessed to witness the cast of The Today Show, the Doctors, and some unfortunate producer on the Ellen show get their flu shot…

No thanks Ellen

And since 2002, the CDC (in accordance with the ACIP) asserts recommendation to vaccinate children as young as 6 months against influenza type A every year[1] - however…there is a negative aspect to the annual influenza vaccine that has been dismissed, set aside and shelved…

Until now …

The annual flu shot negatively affects the body’s immune response which would otherwise produce broad-immunity to several influenza viruses…particularly to pandemic subtypes. [2]  

Although countless studies have confirmed this particular disadvantage – it was only ever established in animal models (mice, pigs, chickens, cotton rats, ferrets) and was only considered a theory in humans. [3]

Again...until now.

Firstly - what is heterosubtypic immunity exactly? ..and why the heck does it even matter?

Well, whether you know it or not, this special type of immunity is pretty darn important.

To put it plainly, heterosubtypic immunity (Het-I) is immunity you develop to fight MULTIPLE strains of a virus after one immunologic event by one specific strain. [4]  
Say what?

To put it even more plainly - say your child (unvaccinated against influenza) gets sick with the current (Influenza A) H3N2 strain. They fall ill for a few days and make a full recovery. Your child now has antibodies and T cells that impart immunity against H3N2 - not only that, but they also are resistant to the other 325 circulating strains of Influenza A. [5]

This hetersubtypic immunity imparts the remarkable ability to limit virus replication, reduce symptoms, and play a critical role in recovery/mortality. [6] [4]

It has been understood since at least 1965  (that’s how far back I found documentation) that heterosubtypic immunity is absent when relying on (parenteral/injectable) vaccination. [6 pg15]

Now, that alone is not such a terrible thing but vaccinating against influenza, in numerous animal models over the last decade, was seen not only to be lacking the ability to offer this heterosubtypic immunity but also REPRESSES IT (particularly to pandemic strains!!). [6]


This is what is very concerning…especially in children – why you ask…because young children and immunologically suppressed individuals is the very population that the vaccine is hoping to protect – instead the vaccine is obstructing their immune response to protect them against a broad range of flu subtypes. [6]  

Antigenic Drift and the Ever-Changing Flu Virus

Before we review the research – I am going to offer a bit of information about the  virus . This way you can fully understand why heterosubtypic immunity is important in our ability to stay healthy during flu season (especially for children)...and why its imperative that the vaccine does not repress it.

When we are naturally exposed to the influenza virus, a person’s body will deploy many specialized cells (various types of different T cells) and proteins (antibodies) to identify, attack, and destroy the invading pathogen.  Following one natural influenza exposure, heterosubtpic immunity will occur allowing us to fight off many similar subtypes.

There is an insurmountable amount of variations on subtypes for influenza.

For influenza A alone, there are potentially 144 different subtypes (16 different types of HA and 9 different types of NA)  and for each subtype virus, the HA gene continuously mutates (antigenic drift) and hence there are many variants of the same subtype viruses. [7] [8] [9]

One thing the vaccine does do is that it will elicit specific antibodies for the strains included in the annual flu vaccine. These antibodies have the ability to attach to neat things called epitopes located on the surface of the virus which allows our body to 'remember' and recall which antibodies to use if we are exposed again which is a good thing. [10]

However, the constant single-point mutations render the virus unidentifiable to an immune system that relies solely on specific antibodies to fight infection which is why scientists are required to change the virus strain on an annual base. In a good year, scientists are usually about 60 percent effective at guessing and developing the vaccine because the vaccine is only effective against closely-matched circulating strains. [7] [11]

structure of an influenza virus

Several of our body’s immune responses are bypassed and not activated when a person is vaccinated. 

The annual influenza vaccine produces an extremely narrow immunity which is why it is important that it does not interfere with our body developing heterosubtypic immunity to the many other flu subtypes.

New Research

A bit of interesting back story - In 2008, Canadian researcher Danuta Skowronski discovered that people who received the influenza vaccine in 2008 where twice as likely to become infected with influenza (H1N1) the following year. [12]

Interested, Skowronski tested infected ferrets (the animal model most closely related to the influenza infection seen in humans) with the influenza virus and witnessed that the vaccinated ferrets came down with a more severe disease then the unvaccinated group (even though the vaccinated group had higher viral titers!!).  [12]

Although they confirmed that researchers in other countries were witnessing this same effect as well, this was written off by the scientific community as being a ‘Canadian problem’ – some thought that the vaccine used in Canada was to blame.

A theory was developed by Skowronski, coined the ‘block hypothesis’, this explained that the vaccine allowed a person to develop immunity to only one subtype but increased the risk of developing life-threatening infection with other strains. [12]

Fast forward 4 years to 2012…

Leave it to our Dutch friends who have been witnessing an ongoing rise in the refusal to accept the flu vaccine to present evidence in both animal and human models to confirm Skowronski’s block hypothesis and illustrate that the vaccine hinders the development of significant cross-immunity otherwise induced by natural infection. [2] [3]

To play devils advocate for a brief moment, I would like to point out that there is published work that attempts to present that cross-immunity (heterosubtypic) does occur from vaccination… however (1) they fail to compare the results in an unvaccinated population and (2) CD8+ T cells were not assessed (this is key because it is now understood that vaccination affects/hinders the induction of CD8+T cell responses which is crucial in the contribution of heterosubtypic immunity). [13] [2]

The bottom line - The results from the Dutch study show an increase in virus-specific CD8+ T cells in the group of unvaccinated children that was NOT present in the vaccinated group.

In fact, a significantly higher percentage was observed.

Vaccinated group
Mean = 0.37  SD = 0.45

Unvaccinated group
Mean = 0.86  SD = 0.67

The authors discuss that these results demonstrate that the annual influenza vaccine negatively affects the induction of the body’s immune response which would otherwise produce broad-immunity to influenza A viruses. 

The findings in this study will hold more weight after replication, no doubt – however, two epidemiological studies performed in 2009 confirmed these same results as well – they particularly address the associated with the annual flu vaccine and a persons increased risk of acquiring pandemic flu viruses the following year. [2 see references #2 & #21]


Reviewing the efficacy studies performed in the assessment of the current annual influenza vaccines, it is apparent that the focus solely on antibody titers while ignoring the importance of cellular immunity is posing risk to children and immune-compromised individuals. [14]

So you might want to reconsider before you hurry and get your flu shot this year…you may be increasing your risk of coming down with a nasty flu bug next year.


  1. as Always AMANDA...brilliantly researched and Timely!!!! Geeshh I am appalled by how people,are just seriously er eh..EXCUSE ME "lemming behavior".
    My friend, a nurse, whom I thought to be independent, &intelligent thinker....she says wow, its amazing how many of her patients almost died b/c they didnt get flu vaccine. OMG....people people, they SADLY think that white lab coats are walking Gods, ugh!!
    Treat your body,as IF YOU BELIEVE IN IT!!

    "the Body achieves what the Mind Believes"

  2. I would have REALLY liked to re-post this on my facebook, but all the pictures make the article lose credibility and the author seem very young. People shouldn't discount wisdom in youth, but they do.

    1. Thank you Jane - I was actually thinking about removing some of the pictures because they really do not contribute to the post well... so I did - thank you for your insight.


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