The race toward a vaccine for COVID-19 continues as multiple clinical trials are in the end stages of testing. While the wait for that vaccine continues, experts are urging people to get vaccinated for another infectious disease: influenza. While there have been questions about whether the flu vaccine could affect the effectiveness of a potential COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Gregory Poland, a Mayo Clinic virologist and vaccine expert, says there’s no evidence this would happen.
“I think what they’re asking about is a phenomenon called ‘viral interference,’ (which is) the idea that if you have two viruses or two vaccines, do you in some way interfere with the immune response? We have no evidence of that,” says Dr. Poland. “What we do have evidence of is that influenza alone — and it can be unpredictable — sickens tens of millions of people in the U.S. every year, hospitalizes hundreds of thousands and kills tens of thousands.”
“The other thing we know from two studies … of well over 20,000 people is that simultaneous infection with COVID and influenza doubled the death rate. So getting your flu vaccine is important on multiple levels,” says Dr. Poland. “It appears to lower ― not increase ― the mortality experience of people who get simultaneously infected. It decreases symptomatology. It decreases the surge in demand on the medical system. It decreases the anxiety somebody is naturally going to have in the midst of a pandemic over, ‘What to do these respiratory symptoms represent for me?’ And while they’re waiting to get a COVID test back, which might be several days, they’re in isolation, they can’t go to work, they’re separated from their family members, so the easiest thing in the world to do is take influenza off the table by getting the flu vaccine.”
Dr. Poland says getting vaccinated for the flu and getting vaccinated as early as possible is an important, safe and effective thing everybody can do. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get vaccinated for the flu each year. This season, along with the injectable vaccine, the flu mist is also an option, where available, to those who qualify.