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Flower Mound, TX 75028
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The Flu Vaccine a Benefit for COVID-19?

With the Flu season upon us and COVID-19 cases continuously rising, the concern for a “twindemic” is increasing.1 Dr. Anthony Fauci has urged the public to get flu shots in order to “blunt the effect” of being exposed to both infections. In the past, hospitals already saw a rise in admission for flu during the fall and winter months – and now with COVID-19, they are bracing for an uptick in both flu and COVID-19 patients. In the United States, the 2019-2020 flu season led to 740,000 hospitalizations and 62,000 deaths. COVID-19 deaths in the US are currently over 258,000 and counting. Having both at the same time may lead to more severe illness.2

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older (with some exceptions) receive an annual influenza vaccine to reduce the risk of getting the flu.3 Moreover, recent observational studies and theories have found relationships between the flu shot and COVID-19 infection.

A large observational study collected data of those aged 65 and older in 3243 counties across the United States, compared COVID-19 confirmed cases and deaths to influenza coverage. The researchers found that for every 10% increase in flu vaccinations, there is a 28% decrease in COVID-19 related mortality.4 In other words, the counties with higher rates of flu shots had lower rates of COVID-19 deaths.

Researchers in Brazil also found a benefit of the flu vaccine for COVID-19 after studying over 90,000 confirmed COVID-19 patients. They observed a 17% reduction in mortality, 18% reduction in ventilation, and 8% reduction in ICU admission for those who had received an influenza vaccine.5

In Italy, researchers found that higher rates of influenza vaccination was correlated with a lower rate of COVID-19 deaths per region for those over 65 years of age.6

In addition to the research above, other studies have also concluded that the flu shot can reduce the severity of COVID-19 infection in patients 18 years and older.7

There is speculation and theory as to how the flu vaccine helps against COVID-19. One theory suggests that this phenomenon is explained by “bystander immunity”. Bystander immunity is adaptive and innate immunity that is activated independent of a specific antigen – in this case, the flu vaccine priming the immune system to fight COVID-19.8

Bystander immunity is already documented and used in practice today. For example, the MMR vaccine is used in dermatology for human papillomavirus infections. In addition, this phenomenon may explain why the COVID-19 infection rate in children is lower than that in adults. Children are routinely given vaccines such as varicella, hepatitis B, and PCV13.9

Nothing herein constitutes medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, or is a substitute for professional advice. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other medical professional if you have questions or concerns about a medical condition.

  1. Oshinsky, David. (2020). How We Can Avoid a “Twindemic” of COVID and Flu. Scientific American. Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-we-can-avoid-a-twindemic-of-covid-and-flu/
  1. Berger, Matt. (2020). You Can Get the Flu and COVID-10 at the Same Time: What You Should Know. Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/you-can-get-flu-and-covid19-at-the-same-time-what-you-should-know (Accessed: 29 Nov 2020)
  1. United States, Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). “Prevent Seasonal Flu.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/index.html (Accessed: 29 Nov 2020)
  1. Zanettini C, Omar M, Dinalankara W, et al. Influenza Vaccination and COVID19 Mortality in the USA. medRxiv. 2020. doi: 10.1101/2020.06.24.20129817
  1. Fink G, Orlova-Fink N, Schindler T, et al. Inactivated Trivalent Influenza Vaccine is associated with lower mortality among Covid-19 patients in Brazil. medRxiv. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.06.29.20142505
  1. Marin-Hernandez D, Schwartz RE, Nixon DF. Epidemiological evidence for association between higher influenza vaccine uptake in the elderly and lower COVID-19 deaths in Italy. J Med Virol. 2020. doi: 10.1002/jmv.26120
  1. Yang MJ, Rooks BJ, Le TT, et al. Influenza vaccination and hospitalizations among COVID-19 infected adults. JABFM. 2020. Available at: https://www.jabfm.org/sites/default/files/COVID_20-0528.pdf
  1. Salem ML, El-Hennawy D. The possible beneficial adjuvant effect of influenza vaccine to minimize the severity of COVID-19. Med hypotheses. 2020. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2020.109752
  1. Salman S, Salem ML. Routine childhood immunization may protect against COVID-19. Med Hypotheses. 2020. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2020.109689.
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