It’s the middle of the flu season, and those of us who haven’t gotten our shots might be regretting it right about now. But turns out, flu shots work for some better than others, and all of that is determined by your genes. A new discovery by researchers at the University of Basel, Switzerland, suggests that genetics play a role in the efficacy of flu shots. According to the study, different genetic variants of a gene called IL-28B influence the way a person’s immune system responds to the vaccine.
The researchers first studied immune responses to vaccines in organ transplant patients. Vaccines usually do not work well for these patients because their immune systems are suppressed by drugs, used to prevent organ rejection. Because their immune system is suppressed, these patients do not have a strong immune response to vaccines, which means the vaccine is less likely to protect them and they are more likely to get sick – something that can be fatal for these patients.
The IL-28B gene has two versions, called alleles, one of which is dominant and occurs more often, and the other is recessive and less common. The researchers found that patients who had at least one recessive allele of the IL-28B gene were more likely to have a stronger immune response to the flu vaccine. This means that the flu shot is more likely to work for people with at least one recessive allele.
The researchers found the same pattern in people who do not take immune-suppressant drugs. Those with at least one recessive allele had stronger antibody response to the vaccine. These results suggest that genetics play an important role in a person’s response to vaccines, and that there is a possibility of targeting a particular gene in order to achieve better response to vaccines. So, if you got your flu shot but got sick anyways, don’t despair –researchers may soon be able to improve the way your body reacts to vaccines by targeting this particular gene.
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