Study suggests flu shots help people with COVID-19

FILE - A nurse practitioner wears personal protection equipment as she administers a flu vaccination at the CVS pharmacy on Sept. 3, 2020 in Key Biscayne, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – People who received flu vaccinations in the year before testing positive for the novel coronavirus were nearly 2 ½ times less likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 and more than three times less likely to be admitted to a hospital intensive care unit, according to a University of Florida study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

The findings are based on a review of information from electronic health records of 2,000 patients at UF Health who tested positive for COVID-19 between March and August, researchers at the UF College of Public Health & Health Professions said in a news release that also flagged some of the study’s limitations. Only 214 patients had been vaccinated for the flu, making the number of patients studied small. Another limitation was the researchers only reviewed the records of patients at UF Health.

More investigation is needed to confirm the findings, but if confirmed they would be a boost for flu vaccination efforts, said Arch G. Mainous III, the study’s senior author.

It’s not clear why a flu vaccination could potentially be beneficial for COVID-19 patients. One theory is that cells the influenza vaccine primes to kill the flu virus could also destroy the novel coronavirus. Another theory is that components, or “adjuncts," are added to the flu vaccine to make it more effective. Previous research shows that vaccines with specific adjuncts might have offered protection to people infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, an earlier, less-deadly coronavirus infection first identified in 2003, said Ming-Jim Yang, a third-year UF Health family medicine resident and lead author of the study.