It’s the question we have to ask ourselves every flu season: do I get a flu shot or not? Some people swear by its effectiveness and claim to never get sick. Others claim that it just doesn't work. Even the CDC admitted last year that the shots for that season were only about 56% effective, since they're developed for specific strains of the virus. However, scientists have discovered that a pre-shot treatment involving lasers (lasers!) may increase that percentage.
As it stands, flu shots contain chemicals that increase the vaccine's performance by boosting the patient's immune response to the vaccine. However, these chemicals don't always work, and often cause side effects. Scientists have discovered that using low power laser light targeted on the area of skin where the shot will be administered also triggers a powerful immune response to the vaccine, but more reliably and without the side effects.
Although similar experiments have been done before, this is the first time that the chemical additives were left out of the process entirely. Scientists from Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital started by finding the maximum amount of laser light that could be used without causing damage to the skin. They tested this out on mice and fine tuned it to find the perfect dosage. They determined that about a minute of laser light treatment was enough to boost the effectiveness of the injected flu vaccine. Once the vaccine itself was administered, they subjected the mice to the flu virus. The mice that had been pre-treated with the laser light ended up with much less of the virus in their bodies.
This research could be helpful for other vaccinations as well, such as the one you get for Hepatitis B. The research team is currently developing a simple handheld device that doctors can use for the pre-treatment laser process. If all goes well, more people might choose to get an annual flu shot and, hopefully, future incidences of the flu will decrease. If we can pair this with a long-term flu shot, hopefully we’ll all be healthier and happier.