Is the flu vaccine that important this year/

15th May 2020, Dr Chee L Khoo

Please don’t ask me about the flu vaccine situation this year with the Covid-19 pandemic in the background. Totally mismanaged again by the government (from our end at least). We were first told in mid-March that it is super important to get your flu vaccine this year. “You don’t want to really get the flu and Covid-19 together, do you?

Of course, everyone started to panic and rang the practice and ask “is the vaccine here yet?”. We could not even order the stocks till mid-March to be ready for delivery in early April. So, why panic the masses only to be told that it won’t be available till April. Besides, the advice for the last two years was to have the vaccine closer to winter, say, in May or even June so that, supposedly, the immunity will still be fresh when winter is at its worst in mid-July. I was very skeptical with that advice anyway but it just went out the window this year.

We were also assured that “we have enough flu vaccines for all Australians who wants it”. Of course we don’t have enough. As I write this now, the government coffers have no more flu vaccines and may not have any for ordering till sometime in June (maybe). So much for the assurance that “we have enough”.

So, does Covid-19 affect whether you should have the flu vaccine or not? Well, the position from the government (not necessarily the medical experts) is that you don’t want to get the flu which may make you more vulnerable to catch Covid-19 and if you do catch it, it might be more severe. We actually don’t know. There are no scientific studies as such although a Spanish report found that co-infection of Covid-19 and other respiratory viruses was uncommon. We also don’t know whether having two infection on board is any worse or better than one infection alone. We know from prior studies that in children who has both respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza, the RSV infection is milder.

So, should we have the flu vaccine because of Covid-19? Well, not for the reasons cited. By having the flu vaccine, we can reduce hospitalisations for the complications of influenza and potentially free up beds if we do have the second wave of Covid-19. Read more here.