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Do Flu Shots Work Against COVID-19? It Might Actually Help. Here's Why!

Here's why doctors are encouraging you to take the flu shot, especially during these times of outbreak

In the past month or so, the COVID-19 outbreak has swept the globe by surprise. With the Philippines being recently put under a state of public health emergency, we are now looking to other countries who have been responding and containing the virus in the last months for help and guidance on the matter.


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Many countries have discovered and corroborated information on this new novel coronavirus, but still, many questions cloud the minds of people. One of these questions was raised by US President Donald Trump himself, who asked whether flu shots would work against COVID-19. 


Short and quick answer, no. But, given the the fact that both the flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms—coughing, sneezing, body aches, and fever—and that they have emerged roughly on the same time of the year (January-February is prime flu season), many are inclined to believe that COVID-19 is somewhat related to the flu.


Many doctors, however, have clarified that while they share many similarities in symptoms, transmission and treatment, COVID-19 is caused by one novel virus, while the flu is caused by several different types and strains of influenza viruses. So, no. The flu shot won't necessarily work against COVID-19.


Dr. Patrick Gonzalez, who is currently based at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), clarifies that “Vaccines are usually pathogen specific, meaning they work only on one kind of organism. A flu vaccine was made only for the influenza virus and will not work against anything else.”



However, he agrees with Dr. Albert Ko, a professor and department chair at the Yale School of Public Health, who told Live Science that immunizing people against influenza has a very important indirect effect on the way we can contain the COVID-19 outbreak. 


January to March, in many parts of the world like the Philippines and the US, is flu season. This time last year, all the health news were about hospitals dealing with flu cases. This week, the American College of Cardiology also published a report that as of February 29, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that up to 620,000 patients were hospitalized and up to 52,000 were recorded to have died from the flu season of October 2019 to February 2020. These numbers are overwhelming given the fact that there is currently a vaccine available to prevent a person from catching the flu.


So just imagine the number of people coming to hospitals bearing the same symptoms of COVID-19, causing alarm and panic, only to be diagnosed with a common flu.


“The things is influenza and coronaviral diseases have very similar symptoms to the point that even to the trained, they are very difficult to tell apart without digging for more information [or testing, which is very expensive at the moment],” says Dr. Gonzalez.


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But he emphasizes that the flu shot does help, especially in these times when we have an outbreak. “It's flu season. Many people come down with the flu nowadays. Imagine mixing them with actual coronavirus patients. That's double whammy. Everyone could get the flu. Everyone could also get COVID-19, especially in tight communities and hospitals. So if you're vaccinated for the flu and come down with similar symptoms, we can take flu as the less likely cause and focus on testing you out for other causes, [such as COVID-19.]”


On top of that, getting an influenza vaccine will protect you from getting down with the flu and risk having to go to the hospital for medication. That's already less worrying on your side, given the paranoia surrounding coughing and fever; and you're one less person the doctors and hospitals have to deal with, especially during emergency times like this. 


As of last weekend, three COVID-19 patients are being treated at RITM.





Given that many cities have now suspended classes and many companies are considering work from home schemes, doctors are urging everyone to stay vigilant, stay away from crowded places, and maintain good hygiene to keep themselves protected from getting sick.


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