It’s flu season, but in this horrible year, we need to talk about the seasonal flu vaccine and coronavirus. Before we start, I am not claiming that the flu vaccine will prevent COVID-19, but it might save your life.
President Trump, who has all of the science knowledge of an amoeba, has been attempting to convince us that COVID-19 is nothing more than the flu, despite his just being in a hospital for treatment of COVID-19 and after over 210,000 dead Americans (as of 6 October 2020) because of this disease.
In fact, the flu kills a lot of people worldwide every single year, around 250,000 to 500,000, and the coronavirus, so far, is much worse with over 1 million deaths worldwide as of September 2020. In a normal year, influenza is a very dangerous disease, despite the claims of the anti-vaccine world. It could be much much worse when we get a double hit from the flu and the coronavirus.
Although there are all kinds of mixed messages and false claims about a “real soon now” potential coronavirus vaccine, we have to stop this pandemic with social distancing, face masks, hand-washing, and other efforts. And to reduce potential mortality from the coronavirus, we must get the flu vaccine.
Once again, I am not making any claim that the seasonal flu vaccine will prevent a coronavirus infection. It’s just about comorbidities, that is, other health conditions that increase one’s risk for dangerous outcomes from the disease.
Because COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, anything that weakens the respiratory system could (and again, we don’t have solid information on the pathophysiology and comorbidities for the disease) lead to a worse course for the disease. And that would include a higher risk of mortality.
The flu vaccine can reduce the risk of one coronavirus comorbidity since the flu is a respiratory disease (see Note 1). So, the flu vaccine isn’t going to help reduce your risk of coronavirus infection, but it will reduce your risk of complications, including death, from COVID-19.
And here are some other suggestions:
- Don’t smoke. There is a load of good reasons to not smoke tobacco, including greatly reducing your risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases, but early data shows that smokers have a much higher risk of death from COVID-19 than non-smokers.
- Pneumonia vaccine. For the same reasons that I used for the flu vaccine, the pneumonia vaccine is also important. Pneumococcal pneumonia is a serious respiratory disease that can make COVID-19 much worse. And just to be clear, this vaccine does not prevent COVID-19.
It is also important to note that the flu itself creates an enormous burden on our healthcare systems, so preventing it help the world’s healthcare systems maintain adequate capacity for COVID-19 patients, especially since a lot of experts are concerned that the pandemic will grow quickly during the winter.
Just to preclude any anti-vaccine arguments about the flu vaccine, the overall effectiveness of the 2019-2020 flu vaccine is around 39% for all ages. That might sound bad, but it means that 39% of all vaccinated individuals are protected against the flu. I know that some anti-vaxxers believe that if it’s not 100% effective, it’s essentially useless. No, that would be bad math.
The COVID-19 pandemic is deadly, no matter where you are in the world. And the real scientists are predicting that we should be prepared for a much worse situation as we move into the winter season in the northern hemisphere.
The flu vaccine is not going to prevent COVID-19, because, despite the claim of a lot of ignorant people, the flu and the coronavirus are unrelated. However, the flu is a serious disease that could compound your risks of death from the coronavirus. The flu vaccine greatly reduces that risk.
So get your flu vaccine – unless you’re a dumbass.
- People will frequently claim they have the “stomach flu.” That is not a real thing. That is usually caused by a food-borne illness, and it has nothing to do with the influenza virus.
- Del Rio C, Malani PN. COVID-19-New Insights on a Rapidly Changing Epidemic. JAMA. 2020 Feb 28;. doi: 10.1001/jama.2020.3072. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 32108857.
- Paget J, Spreeuwenberg P, Charu V, Taylor RJ, Iuliano AD, Bresee J, Simonsen L, Viboud C; Global Seasonal Influenza-associated Mortality Collaborator Network and GLaMOR Collaborating Teams*. Global mortality associated with seasonal influenza epidemics: New burden estimates and predictors from the GLaMOR Project. J Glob Health. 2019 Dec;9(2):020421. doi: 10.7189/jogh.09.020421. PMID: 31673337; PMCID: PMC6815659.