As flu season nears, some may be wondering whether receiving a flu vaccine can influence your chances of contracting or being hospitalized by the novel coronavirus, but a new study puts some of those worries to rest.
Researchers with the Cleveland Clinic found that the flu vaccine does not increase a person’s risk of catching COVID-19, the disease the coronavirus causes, or worsen their chances of dying from it.
In fact, the team says getting an influenza vaccine “is the single most important intervention to help stay healthy this fall and winter” and prevent a “twindemic.”
However, it remains unclear how simultaneously battling the flu and novel coronavirus can affect the immune system and hospital resources. The study was published Sept. 17 in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Science.
“Our findings suggest that we should proceed as usual with our vaccination strategy for global influenza this flu season,” study lead author Dr. Joe Zein, a pulmonologist at Cleveland Clinic, said in a news release. “Getting the annual flu vaccine remains the best safeguard against the influenza virus — both for yourself and the people around you.”
The researchers studied more than 13,000 patients who were tested for COVID-19 at Cleveland Clinic between early March and mid-April. They then compared individuals who received a flu vaccine in the fall or winter of 2019 (4,138 patients) with those who didn’t (9,082 patients), according to the release.
There was no evidence that suggested the patients’ flu vaccine increased their chances of catching COVID-19 or having a severe case. The vaccine also did not raise risks of hospitalization, admission to the intensive care unit or mortality from the disease.
Experts across the country have been urging the public to get vaccinated for influenza because of the stress COVID-19 continues to bring onto hospital systems and resources. The pandemic coupled with a seasonal flu that hospitalizes thousands of Americans every year could be devastating if people don’t take proper precautions.
“There are real medical complexities of getting two major, significant, viral outbreaks that look very similar for many people, to co-circulate,” Cameron Wolfe, an infectious diseases expert and associate professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine, told NBC News. “That causes great challenges when clinicians face a patient where they’re not sure if it’s influenza or COVID.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said America needs to “hunker down and get through this fall and winter, because it’s not going to be easy,” NBC reported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that from Oct. 1 through April 4 there were between 39 million to 56 million flu illnesses, 410,000 to 740,000 flu hospitalizations and 24,000 to 62,000 flu deaths.
As of Sept. 22, the U.S. surpassed 200,000 coronavirus deaths — the highest in the world — with more than 6.8 million confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins.