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I was having this discussion with a friend over vaccination against the flu. Although he agrees that vaccination against almost all diseases is necessary, he said that flu shots are not. He argued that the immune system is like the muscular system. It constantly goes through training. Flu shots deprive the body from "natural exercise" since, he believes, we need to train our immune system by getting "the right amount" of the real viruses from the environment. In other words, if we do too much vaccination (and flu shots are "too much") we make our immune system lazy. Is this true? I know that there is a difference between natural immunization and vaccination, is it correct though to say that the latter makes your immune system lazy? I was under the impression that vaccination's function resembles more the way we learn and memory and less the musclar system which can get lazy.

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    $\begingroup$ Vaccines are intended to provoke the exact same immune response as the actual pathogens they're derived from. There is not a fundamental difference between natural immunization and vaccination. I'm not sure what "lazy" would even mean in this context. $\endgroup$ – Harris Apr 14 '17 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ In your friend's language: vaccination means infection by dead viruses. Thats it for the difference. $\endgroup$ – another 'Homo sapien' Apr 14 '17 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ Please ready about the hygiene hypothesis; there is a lot of evidence that not being exposed to pathogens weakens our immune systems. Vaccines are boosters of the immune system, not suppressors. We rarely get tetanus any more (quite common once) because our bodies, thanks to vaccines, have been given an immunological boost to fight it. Ask your friend if his mind is stronger if he uses it or if he doesn't. The answer is obvious. It's similar for the immune system (up to a point.) $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Apr 14 '17 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ Hi Welcome to Bio.SE. I'm +1-ing this question simply because this might be a misconception shared by others, and we should try to properly address it in the answers. Your friend's theory, however, is way off. As @anongoodnurse mentions: vaccines are boosters of the immune system, not suppressors. $\endgroup$ – theforestecologist Apr 15 '17 at 1:40
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    $\begingroup$ No, that is ridiculous. Chris has it right. What you are doing is exposing the immune system to a target (piece of, or inactive viral particle) that it can then prepare antibodies for in advance of encountering the actual flu virus. This way your body can quickly recognize/attack/neutralize the virus before making you ill. $\endgroup$ – user31589 Apr 15 '17 at 12:47
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Contrary to many beliefs our immune system needs no "training". It is permanently active and confronted with dozens to hundreds of antigens in our food, from dust we inhale and so on. This all happens to protect our body from the environment and the immune system is pretty efficient with that and certainly it is not getting lazy.

By vaccinating against a certain disease, you generate immunogenic memory against this disease. When you then get exposed to the disease, this memory helps to speed up the immunogenic reaction against the disease - ideally you are not getting sick, in some cases the progression of the disease is much milder.

Further reading:

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  • $\begingroup$ although there is evidence that lack of exposure may contribute to atopic immune reactions (allergies). The fact these reactions involve the adaptive immune system supports this. Immunization would have nothing to do with this one way or the other though. thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(01)06252-3/… $\endgroup$ – John Apr 15 '17 at 15:02

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