A new preprint article on healthcare workers in Qatar suggests that those who were vaccinated against the flu had a much better chance of avoiding severe COVID-19.
New research published this month suggests that people who are vaccinated against the flu are more likely to avoid illness – especially severe illness – caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The Qatar-based pre-print study, which has was picked up by Naturereviewed the health records of 30,774 healthcare workers in the country during the 2020 vaccination season before the availability of COVID-19 vaccines.
All those who took a PCR test during the study period were eligible for inclusion, with efficacy against SARS-CoV-2 infection and severe or fatal disease being the key endpoints measured.
The discoveries, which have now been published on medRxivindicate that those who were vaccinated had an approximately 30% reduction in symptomatic COVID-19 infection compared to those who were not, as well as an almost 95% reduction in severe illness.
The authors say their research results were limited by the youth of the cohort, which had an average age of around 36 years, with the rarity of serious illness also resulting in a wide confidence interval for the estimates of effectiveness.
Acknowledging studies that support a link between flu vaccination and COVID-19 prevention and others that do not, they say their work adds to the evidence that the flu vaccine can boost protection more widely than for this specific disease.
“The results support the benefits of influenza vaccination that go beyond protection against influenza infection and serious illness,” they wrote.
The authors also said that by focusing on the response of healthcare workers, they would mitigate the influence of a so-called “healthy user effect”, as they would be less likely to have large variations in behaviors. related to health compared to the general population. .
“These results for a population of healthcare workers where the influence of the healthy user effect may be minimized, support the conclusion that recent influenza vaccination has a true biological effect in protecting against influenza. ‘SARS-CoV-2 infection and the severity of COVID-19’, the study reads.
For Professor Dale Godfrey, head of the immunology theme at the Doherty Institute, the principle of a vaccine designed for one disease offering protection against another is familiar.
“The idea is not new,” he said. newsGP. “There was a lot of interest in other vaccines that may offer some protection against COVID.’
He mentions a study conducted by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute which tested the impact of the BCG vaccine against COVID-19 in the first months of the pandemic.
“There is evidence, even from the 1970s, that vaccination with live attenuated vaccines provided some level of protection against influenza,” he said.
“There was evidence long before COVID that this phenomenon is happening and it’s consistent with what we understand.”
Professor Godfrey says that while specific vaccines target the adaptive immune system and won’t provide protection against a different virus that doesn’t share the same molecule, the vaccine’s wider impact on the innate immune system may play a role.
“If your immune system has been recently boosted, you’ll have a lot of innate cells and innate molecules that will be activated and take a while to settle back in,” he said.
“And that’s probably what’s happening.
“It’s like putting the immune system on notice, it’s a really key part of any immune response. You are only strengthening your defenses against any pathogens a little.
On whether people should expect a flu shot to protect them against COVID-19, Professor Godfrey is unambiguous that a targeted vaccine is preferable.
“If they want to get the flu shot, they should definitely get it because it will give them the best protection against the flu,” he said.
“If they’re doing it to protect against COVID, then a COVID vaccine makes the most sense.
“A flu shot might add a bit to that, who knows, especially if it’s been a few months since their last COVID [vaccine] increase.’
The lifespan of any protective boost that might be offered is also not yet clear, Prof Godfrey says.
“The durability of such protection and whether one vaccine is better than another is not really well understood,” he said.
“Most of the evidence I heard was more about live attenuated vaccines, and the flu vaccine is not a live attenuated vaccine, it’s a subunit vaccine.
“There are still a lot of questions left.”
In the Nature article, Professor Mihai Netea, an infectious disease expert from Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands, suggests that using an existing vaccine as protection against emerging diseases could be useful in the early stages of any future pandemic.
Professor Godfrey thinks the huge change in the dynamics of vaccine development due to COVID-19 is likely to limit the useful window for using an unrelated vaccine to protect people.
“With mRNA vaccines and single protein vaccines, we’ve seen incredibly rapid progress from sequencing a virus to approving a vaccine,” he said.
“The next time there is a pandemic, I hope it will happen in an even smoother and more streamlined way because of our experience with COVID.”
However, he does not completely rule out this possibility.
“There would still be a period of a few months, where potentially [the development of a vaccine] may not have happened yet.
“Any other way to increase our immunity would be an advantage.”
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