Illustration: Kieran Blakey

The Nuance

Could the Flu Shot Offer Protection Against Covid-19?

Experts say it’s more important than ever that people get the flu vaccine

Elemental
Published in
6 min readAug 20, 2020

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Earlier this year, a team of researchers based primarily at Johns Hopkins University examined county-level health data collected from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The team was looking for associations between last season’s flu vaccine and deaths attributed to Covid-19.

After adjusting for more than a dozen variables that could have confused their findings — such as race, income, education level, health status, and access to hospital care — the researchers concluded that among adults age 65 and older, a group that accounts for the vast majority of coronavirus-related deaths, high rates of vaccine coverage were associated with a significant drop in Covid-19 deaths. Each 10% increase in flu vaccine coverage within a community corresponded with a 28% reduction in coronavirus deaths, they found.

“Our findings suggest that influenza vaccination can possibly play a protective role in preventing the worst Covid-19 outcomes,” says Luigi Marchionni, co-author of the paper and an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

In his team’s paper, which was posted online June 26 and has not yet undergone peer review or formal publication, Marchionni and his colleagues were quick to highlight their study’s limitations — which included a lack of Covid-19 reporting consistency among states and localities. But he says that he and his group have since performed additional analyses on the data, and their conclusions have held up. He also references a similar study from Brazil, which found evidence that people vaccinated against the flu were less likely than the unvaccinated to suffer from severe or deadly cases of Covid-19.

“We’re most likely going to face a dual pandemic this fall,” he says, referring to the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 crises and the predictable resurgence of seasonal influenza. “Our findings point to some obvious reasons for getting the influenza vaccination.”

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Markham Heid
Elemental

I’m a long-time contributor at TIME and other media orgs. I write mostly about health. I grew up in Michigan, but these days I live in southwest Germany.