Benefits of flu shots could go beyond influenza prevention

(Drake Lawson)
Published: Sep. 12, 2020 at 3:36 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s starting to get chillier outside, meaning flu season is right around the corner. Factoring in the COVID-19 pandemic, health care workers are urging people to get a flu shot this year, not only to help prevent the spread of influenza but also because there’s enough to worry about with coronavirus.

Dr. April Arseneau, who has a clinic in the Mat-Su, specializes in immunology, asthma, and allergies. During a normal year, she said she still presses patients at Valley Allergy and Asthma to get their influenza vaccinations. This time around, she said science is showing that flu shots could potentially lower the risk of COVID-19 complications.

“They released some information from a large population of patients with COVID-19 from Brazil,” she said, “and the one thing that seemed to really reduce the severity of disease and also the risk of death was getting a recent flu shot.”

She said the flu shot bulks up your immunity overall. She also said it’s not a replacement by any means, but it does seem to help.

Earlier in September, the State of Alaska DHSS reported that the CDC told them to be ready for a COVID vaccine as early as November. The department released its initial plan that would involve vaccinating essential workers first, then high-risk individuals, followed by the general population.

Dr. Arseneau said that’s how she would do it, too. That’s how it worked when she was in the military as well.

“When I was in the Air Force, we worked a lot with allocating the vaccines to the populations at highest risk, or needed to care for those at highest risks,” she said.

She said that the creation of vaccines is not her specialty, but the rate at which a COVID-19 vaccine is being developed is pretty quick when compared to others. She’s excited for one to come out for COVID-19, but doesn’t believe everyone will feel that way.

"I am concerned that a new vaccine that is coming out faster than usual may result in even more push back from the general population, even when it is available,” she said.

While she said research points to flu vaccines helping with the risk of getting extremely ill from COVID-19, there’s still work to be done on whether or not getting one puts you at a higher risk of getting the other. She said it’s theoretically possible, but they are not certain. However, if one was to get sick with both diseases, it would “certainly not be good.”

Dr. Arseneau said it’s tough to tell whether this will be a bad flu season. Keep in mind, months have gone by where guidelines have advised wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing. All these, Dr. Arseneau said, do plenty to minimize the risk of catching other illnesses, including influenza.

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