Flu or Covid
It can take years of testing and research to produce a safe vaccine, but in 2020 scientists around the world are racing to have a COVID-19 vaccine by next year. According to New York Times’ vaccine tracker, there are currently 87 confirmed preclinical vaccines and 50 vaccines in clinical trials as of October 29, 2020. The development of a vaccine from lab to clinic includes preclinical testing (testing on animals), Phase 1 safety trials (small number of people), Phase 2 expanded trials (hundreds of people), Phase 3 efficacy trials (thousands of people), early or limited approval, and finally full approval. Combining phases is a method used to accelerate vaccine development, and has been the case for some coronavirus vaccines. This means some vaccines have been tested for the first time on hundreds of people. This can lead to early/limited approval, such as the approval of China and Russia’s vaccines without the results of Phase 3 trials. There are 6 vaccines approved for early or limited use, but there are zero currently approved for full use.
While it may be a while for a trusted coronavirus vaccine to emerge on the market, vaccination against influenza began in the 1930’s and there are currently multiple FDA-licensed influenza vaccines available to help prevent the flu. In the early 1940’s it became clear proof that inactivated influenza vaccines could effectively protect against flu epidemics. Getting a flu vaccine has never been more important than this 2020-2021 flu season. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that infects the nose, throat and lungs. Flu symptoms can be very similar to those of COVID-19, which may include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle and body aches, headaches, fatigue and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. The most notable differences in symptoms are that COVID-19 seems to cause more serious illness and may include loss of smell and taste. Because of the overlap between symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu, it may be difficult to distinguish based on symptoms alone. The only definite way to know whether it is COVID-19 or influenza is to be tested.
Both COVID-19 and the flu spread in similar ways, from person-to-person, being in close contact with others, through droplets released when talking, coughing and sneezing, and inhaled into the lungs. Both can also spread through surfaces and can be spread before the infected person shows symptoms. People at high-risk for severe illness for both COVID-19 and flu are of the same categories: older adults, immunocompromised and pregnant people. COVID-19 and flu also share similar complications: pneumonia, respiratory failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome (fluid in lungs), sepsis, cardiac injury, multiple organ failure, worsening of chronic medical conditions, inflammation of heart, brain or muscle tissues, and secondary bacterial infections. With the flu, however, most people will recover within two weeks, although some people may develop complications. With COVID-19, there can be additional complications including blood clots in the veins and arteries of the lungs, heart, legs, or brain, and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. Currently, prescription influenza antiviral drugs are available to treat the flu, but there are no drugs approved as treatment for COVID-19, although studies are in progress and remdesivr is an antiviral agent currently being explored as possible treatment.
Although COVID-19 and influenza share many similarities, an important difference is that there is a vaccine to protect against and prevent the flu, a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and even death. In 2018-2019, flu vaccination prevented 4.4 million influenza illnesses, 58,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations, 2.3 million influenza-associated medical visits, and 3,500 influenza-associated deaths. It is clear to see how this may be helpful amidst a global pandemic, when hospitals are at capacity in certain areas and resources are limited. Flu vaccines prevent tens of thousands of hospitalizations each year and studies have shown they protect pregnant women during and after pregnancy, and can even be lifesaving in children. The flu vaccine reduces your risk of infection by 40-60 percent, and reduces the severity of illness in those vaccinated who still get sick. To learn more about the benefits of flu vaccination, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/keyfacts.htm#benefits, as well as this list of publications:
Considering only half of Americans get their annual flu shot, less influenza related illness and deaths would occur if more people were vaccinated.
Flu season starts to pick up around October and November, and the flu vaccine takes about 2 weeks to kick in, so the CDC recommends getting the flu shot by the end of October. Getting a flu shot will help reduce the uncertainty of whether someone has the flu or COVID-19, since the initial symptoms are so similar and one may not know the difference. This may also prevent using unnecessary COVID-19 testing kits. The USHCA is partnering with local organizations to bring you and your loved ones free flu vaccines. We are gearing up to host the event very soon, so stay tuned for details and be sure to join us. Getting a flu vaccine yourself may not only prevent you from getting sick with the flu, but also protect those around you, including the most vulnerable. For more information on this year’s flu season in relation to COVID-19, please visit the CDC’s website for additional guidance: