Influenza and COVID-19 are different viruses, but they are both respiratory illnesses with similar symptoms. This fact can make it difficult to understand their differences, and why separate vaccinations are important for both illnesses. However, Dr. Amit Mehta, a Geisinger family medicine specialist, presents the case that vaccination is the best preventative measure to contracting and then spreading an illness.
During the 2019-2020 flu season, the CDC reports 38 million flu cases and 22,000 deaths. Comparatively, during the year 2020 alone, the CDC reports a total of 375,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. Yearly vaccinations, and developed immunity, account for the smaller death rate for flu cases as compared to the death rate for COVID-19 cases.
The CDC has confirmed that COVID-19 and flu vaccinations can be completed on the same day. The CDC recommends injection in different limbs, usually arms.
“I'm highly encouraging all my patients to get the flu vaccine because once you get the vaccine, you're really helping prevent the spread, and you're also protecting yourself, so prevention and protection," said Dr. Mehta.
Both vaccinations are recommended due to their fundamental differences. “There is nothing to say that if you get the flu shot, you're not going to get COVID or if you get the COVID shot, you can’t get the flu. They are completely different viruses, and completely different vaccinations," confirmed Dr. Mehta.
Vaccinations may act as prevention, but they can also help physicians to understand, diagnose, and treat ill patients. If a patient is vaccinated for both the flu and COVID-19, one matter is immediately clear, said Dr. Mehta: "We know that there's less chance they have the flu and less chance they have COVID-19," which means they "might have some other bacterial illness." Moreover, vaccination ensures a "high chance that the severity [of illness] is going to be much less," explained Dr. Mehta.
Individual cases are not the only concern. Vaccination "reduces the ICU admissions, it reduces the visits to the primary care clinics, it reduces the visits to the hospitals, and that helps us understand that in a pandemic, we don't want these patient going in there because we have other sicker patients to take care of.” In that way, prevention becomes a community concern that includes potential and current patients.
Dr. Mehta reflected upon the debate surrounding vaccination of pregnant women. With respect to the flu, Dr. Mehta said, “Yes, flu vaccination helps protect pregnant women during and after pregnancy.” According to the CDC, flu vaccination is suggested during the third trimester of pregnancy because this time would "help to protect infants during the first months of life (when they are too young to be vaccinated)."
Referring to COVID vaccinations, Dr. Mehta continued, “We still have a lot of patients who come in and they don't want to get the shot when they're pregnant, and I completely respect and understand where they're coming from. But the data supports that it is safe.” That data has been explored by the CDC.