Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Early research suggests the flu vaccine could be a weapon in the fight against COVID-19

Published Oct 28th, 2020 6:38PM EDT
Flu vaccine
Image: REDPIXEL/Adobe

If you buy through a BGR link, we may earn an affiliate commission, helping support our expert product labs.

  • A new study suggests a promising effect of this year’s flu vaccine, relative to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
  • The study hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet, but it suggests that people who get the flu vaccine may see their chance of being infected by COVID-19 lowered at least to some degree.
  • More research is needed, however, because this connection could be due to the fact that people who get the flu vaccine could be more health-conscious in general, which could explain why they’re less likely to engage in behavior that exposes them to COVID-19.

Getting your annual flu vaccine is an important part of staying healthy, but it may be even more so this year with the onset of a so-called winter “twindemic.” This is the period when the ordinary flu season will also feature a worsening coronavirus outbreak around the US, potentially overwhelming health care systems in many communities. Indeed, my home city of Memphis is preparing to finally tap the surge capacity hospital facility that it stood up early on in the pandemic, on account of the worsening COVID-19 numbers here. It’s part of the hard COVID-19 winter that the US is in store for, which White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said Americans need to “hunker down” because of.

Meantime, the results of a new study have been released that contain a promising finding: It seems that a flu vaccine may help trigger the kind of infection defense within the body that can also help a person better ward off the coronavirus pathogen.

This early research has only been released as a preprint and has not yet been peer-reviewed, so don’t necessarily take it as gospel just yet. The finding here is that receipt of a flu vaccination seems to have lowered the chances among health care workers in the Netherlands of those workers also contracting COVID-19. Moreover, this isn’t even the first study to suggest that some vaccines can strengthen the body’s infection defense against other pathogens not specifically targeted by the vaccine.

The paper explaining all this was released on the website medRxiv a few weeks ago by scientists from the Netherlands and Germany. As summarized by Scientific American, researchers in the paper “detail two separate investigations of the theory that the flu vaccine used in the Netherlands last winter — an inactivated vaccine meant to protect against the four main strains of the influenza virus in circulation — could lower the risk of COVID-19.” In many countries including the US, SA continues, this is the main type of flu vaccine used each year.

In this study, an infectious disease immunologist at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands named Mihai Netea along with some of her colleagues looked through their hospital’s database to find employees who were vaccinated against the flu during the 2019-2020 season. They checked to see if those people ended up getting the virus behind COVID-19, and here’s what they found:

Hospital workers there who did get a flu vaccine were found to be 39% less likely to test positive for COVID-19 as of June 1, 2020. Just 2.23% of nonvaccinated employees tested positive for the virus, while only 1.33% of vaccinated ones did.

Ellen Foxman, an immunobiologist and clinical pathologist at the Yale School of Medicine, stressed to SA that “This is an intriguing study, but it doesn’t provide definitive evidence.” As noted, it has not been peer-reviewed yet, and there could be other reasons for these findings, such as the fact that people who got the flu vaccine may be more health-conscious in general, which could explain why they didn’t end up getting infected by COVID-19.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.