A dangerous meeting of COVID-19 and influenza viruses this fall and winter may not be as bad as some had initially predicted due to safety protocols already in place, health experts say.
“I think it will be a much better flu season thanks to COVID precautions – mask wearing, handwashing. I expect a decline in the number of flu cases we’ll see both among employees and our patients,” said Philip Nizza, an infection disease specialist with Mather Hospital.
Dr. Nizza cited reports from Australia and other nations in the southern hemisphere that reported very mild flu outbreaks their winter season due to precautions taken for COVID-19. Australia also reported a large increase in demand for flu vaccines.
He cautioned that it was still important for everyone to get a flu vaccine. “I have gotten a flu vaccine every year since my third year of medical school and I haven’t missed one yet,” he said. “Flu vaccines are not perfect. They’re based on the common strains from the year before and it’s always possible to get it wrong. Even so, the vaccine will still offer mild protection.”
Dr. Nizza said it is also important to dismiss myths about the flu vaccine, especially that you can get the flu from the flu vaccine. Flu vaccines are made from dead viruses and cannot give someone the disease. Experts said it is possible for the vaccine to cause mild symptoms when it triggers an immune response. Also, because it takes about two weeks to build up immunity after the flu vaccine, it is possible to catch the flu shortly after being vaccinated if exposed to the disease during that period.
“People who care for other people should get the vaccine to protect our patients and our elderly relatives. It’s not just about protecting yourself, but protecting those around you as well,” Dr. Nizza said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said the flu vaccination will be particularly important this year to help reduce the impact of respiratory illnesses in the population and lessen the burden on the healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both COVID-19 and influenza are respiratory viruses, and it is possible to catch both at the same time. “They are two very different viruses in terms of chemical structure, but their route of entry is similar,” he said. “We should do everything we can to reduce those chances. That’s why we advocate the flu vaccine.”
Dr. Nizza said it is doubtful that a COVID-19 vaccine will be available by the start of the 2020-21 winter.