Early Flu Vaccinations Could Aid COVID-19 Public Health Response

This influenza season, we will face two infectious diseases.

The northern hemisphere is now entering the influenza (flu) season. Without a COVID-19 vaccine available to the public, it’s more important than ever to control the flu season. Doing so will reduce the likelihood of furthering healthcare issues as we move into the fall and winter.

Key Highlights

Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to control the upcoming flu season. Doing so will reduce the likelihood of furthering the nation’s healthcare issues.

Nick Tate
Nick Tate

We are entering an unprecedented public health environment where we will simultaneously manage two global respiratory diseases—COVID-19 and influenza. While the industry works at speed to develop safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics, we must also ensure we continue to use existing tools, like the influenza vaccine, to effectively manage public health.

Greg Licholai, MD, Chief Medical Information Officer at PRA

Scientists and the medical field alike are asking the public to make sure they receive their flu vaccine this year. Hospital and healthcare systems still face a high influx of patients with COVID-19. If the flu circulates widely, hospital systems will face high numbers of flu patients as well. The spread of both diseases could overwhelm these already struggling healthcare systems, so continued COVID-19 precautions and getting your flu vaccine are important prevention measures.

Furthermore, COVID-19 and the flu share similar symptoms, which will likely present confusion for patients and healthcare workers. For patients who need hospital care, efficient testing will be necessary to produce effective treatment plans, as the treatments for each disease are different. There is also the potential for coinfection—experts are unsure how prevalent coinfection could be or its potential impact on treatment and recovery. By reducing the spread of the flu, we ensure the best available management of COVID-19 and lower illness and death rates for the flu.

Luckily, COVID-19 precautions are expected to lessen the spread of the seasonal flu. Measures like social distancing and mask wearing are effective in preventing the transmission of the flu. Public health messages about COVID-19 and practicing good hygiene have educated the public on how infectious diseases spread. The hope is that most people have adopted and will continue the use of these measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and incidentally the flu.

A reduced flu season is possible through continued efforts to stay home, keeping nonessential businesses and schools closed, and carefully managing those establishments that are open. It’s important we all remain dedicated to precautionary measures. The southern hemisphere, which is now in its spring season, has had minimal flu circulation.

Community mitigation strategies seem to have reduced the transmission of flu in the southern hemisphere.

We've seen incredibly small amounts of flu in the southern hemisphere this year, in places such as Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, compared to previous years. When you look at how transmittable flu is, it's not as easy to catch from someone as COVID. As long as people get their vaccines, keep social distancing, wearing masks, and not going to work, it is possible that we won’t see a huge spike in flu cases.

Lynlee Burton, Executive Director of Therapeutic Expertise, The Center for Vaccine Research at PRA

However, during the beginning of the school year, children are at a greater risk of contracting these diseases. The flu traditionally has been easily transmitted among children and has a higher chance in resulting in serious illness.

With children representing the largest demographic of influenza infections and many schools reopening around the country, we have an opportunity to mitigate diseases that we have a better control of, like influenza. By ensuring early and strong influenza vaccination coverage, we can lower the transmission rate of this disease and avoid complicating our efforts with COVID-19.

Mark Sorrentino, MD, MS, Vice President, The Center for Vaccine Research and Center for Pediatric Clinical Development at PRA

Based on an analysis of more than 10 million US patients who received the influenza vaccine during the 2018-2019 season, more than two-thirds did not have a subsequent influenza diagnosis. While the vaccine cannot guarantee protection from the flu, it greatly reduces your risk of catching it and spreading it. It is important that you receive your vaccines now or very soon before the risk of contraction increases as we enter further into the flu season.

Vaccinations are the walls that keep you safe. From a public health standpoint, we have to protect each other. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean that diseases don't exist and they're not deadly.

Darin Seehafer, Director of Therapeutic Expertise, The Center for Vaccine Research at PRA

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