Is a Combo COVID/Flu Shot on the Way?

Dennis Thompson wrote . . . . . . . . .

During the next few weeks or months, you might find yourself dropping by the doctor’s office or pharmacy to get your annual flu shot along with a dose of COVID vaccine.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to get two individual jabs. Though at least two drug companies are working on a combo flu/COVID booster, the single-dose shot won’t be ready for this flu season.

But rest assured that it’s perfectly safe to get your flu shot and COVID vaccination during the same visit, infectious disease doctors say.

Getting several vaccinations at once has been standard medical practice for decades now, and these combos have never caused any harm, said Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the Bethesda, Md.-based National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

“It certainly hasn’t inhibited the armed forces,” said Schaffner, a professor of infectious disease and preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. “When you’re a recruit, you get needled. You get a whole bunch of vaccines simultaneously.”

It doesn’t overwhelm your immune system, he said.

“And the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has said explicitly you can get your first, second or — if they’re recommended — booster COVID vaccines at the same time that you get your flu shot,” Schaffner added.

Anticipating that annual COVID boosters will be needed in the future, the pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Novavax both have announced that they are developing a combination flu/COVID vaccine.

Moderna told investors last week it hopes eventually to build an annual combo vaccine that protects against a variety of respiratory viruses, including influenza, COVID and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Meanwhile, Novavax said it has initiated early-stage clinical trials to test a combined flu/COVID vaccine.

Don’t go looking for either combo shot this flu season, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

“I do not think that this is going to be something available in the short term, especially not for this flu season as flu vaccinations have already become available,” he said.

Schaffner agreed.

“They’re looking to the future,” Schaffner said of the drug companies. “They think COVID boosters will be necessary, and they’re even laying their bet this might be a good idea on an annual basis, because that would be the schedule in which you would need to get flu vaccine. They’re thinking about that pretty seriously and have invested a bunch of science in it.”

Adalja says the combo COVID/flu shot could be a smart idea, if it turns out we do need boosters against COVID.

“The more vaccines that can be packed into one shot the better, as it makes getting vaccinated and staying on schedule convenient,” he said. “Whether this is a vaccine everyone needs depends upon the data supporting the need for booster COVID vaccinations, which has not been fully presented.”

Lots of other combination vaccines are already on the market, like the tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis (Tdap) and the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) shots, Adalja said.

Whether a COVID/flu combo would be safe and effective will depend on the immune reaction that’s produced by a single jab, Adalja said.

He noted that the MMR and varicella (chickenpox) vaccines are separated for the first dose, and then combined into a single MMRV shot for a person’s second dose.

That’s because when the combo MMRV is given as one shot for the first dose, it produces more adverse reactions than breaking it into two separate jabs, Adalja said.

Either way, infectious disease doctors like Schaffner and Adalja are bracing for a flu season that could be worse than last year. According to the CDC, flu cases were at an all-time low in 2020-2021 as pandemic protections such as masking and social distancing also served to keep influenza at bay.

“People are concerned because we’re doing exactly the opposite of what we did last year,” Schaffner said. “We’re going out instead of staying home. The kids are in school rather than learning virtually. So we anticipate there will be influenza this year. We can’t tell you how much, but we think there will be influenza, so we’re going to have to reintroduce everyone to this other respiratory virus which is also nasty — influenza.”

Schaffner is also worried that public health experts will be promoting flu shots “at a time of vaccine fatigue,” during which people might also be touting COVID booster shots among some groups.

But it’s still anyone’s guess what will happen this flu season, Adalja noted.

“It’s unclear whether influenza will be a major factor this season because there has not been much flu circulating even in the Southern Hemisphere, and there are some residual COVID-19 mitigation measures that people are taking,” Adalja said. “But influenza has a special status, and it is very important to be prepared for whatever the season may hold.”

Source: Health

Flu Shot Might Help Ward Off Severe COVID

Steven Reinberg wrote . . . . . . . . .

A flu shot might offer some protection against severe effects of COVID-19, a new study suggests.

If you are infected with COVID-19, having had a flu shot makes it less likely you will suffer severe body-wide infection, blood clots, have a stroke or be treated in an intensive care unit, according to the study.

“Our work is important,” said study co-author Dr. Devinder Singh, noting limited resources around the world continue to constrain access to the COVID vaccine.

“The global population may benefit from influenza vaccination, as it can dually act to prevent a coronavirus and influenza ‘twindemic,’ which could potentially overwhelm health care resources,” said Singh, chief of plastic surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Why a flu shot would protect against some severe effects of COVID-19 isn’t clear, but it’s possible that it primes the immune system to reduce the odds of some system-wide harms also seen with flu, the researchers say.

They caution, however, that the flu vaccine is not a substitute for the COVID-19 vaccine. Also, the study can’t prove that a flu shot is protective when it comes to COVID-19, only that it might be.

Dr. Eric Cioe-Pena is director of global health at Northwell Health, New Hyde Park, N.Y., and was not part of the study. “While the study shows a clear association between those who get their flu shot and lower morbidities of COVID infection, we must be clear that this study does not show causation and does not even suggest a clear causal link on how flu vaccination would help with COVID,” he said.

“Regardless, I fully support the flu vaccine and COVID vaccine as prudent public health measures, and if this happens to be a secondary benefit, great,” Cioe-Pena said.

For the study, Singh and his colleagues used the TriNetX research database to collect data on two groups, each with more than 37,000 patients.

People in the first group got a flu shot two weeks to six months before being diagnosed with COVID-19. Those in the second group also had COVID-19, but had not been vaccinated against flu.

The researchers compared the incidence of severe effects between the two groups, looking at sepsis, stroke, a blood clot known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), pulmonary embolism, respiratory failure, respiratory distress syndrome and joint pain. They also assessed rates of kidney failure, loss of appetite, heart attack, pneumonia, emergency department visits, hospital admission, ICU admission and death.

They found that people who had not had the flu shot were up to 20% more likely to be admitted to the ICU, up to 58% more likely to visit an emergency room, and up to 45% more likely to develop sepsis. They were also as much as 58% more likely to have a stroke, and up to 53% more likely to have a DVT. No effect on the risk of death was seen.

The findings were presented Sunday at the virtual annual meeting of the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. Research presented at medical meetings is usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Dr. Marc Siegel is a professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, and was not part of the study. “It’s possible that the flu shot primes the immune system in a way that undercuts the dysfunctional inflammatory response of COVID that causes blood clotting and other serious problems,” he said.

But Siegel pointed out that you can’t rely on a flu shot to protect you from COVID-19. He urged everyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine. “It’s the greatest vaccine ever invented. It’s amazing, amazing,” he said.

Source: HealthDay

Flu May Play Part in Plaque-rupturing Heart Attacks

Thor Christensen wrote . . . . . . . . .

Getting a flu vaccine can reduce the risk of a common type of heart attack in people 60 and older, according to new research that suggests the virus plays a role in rupturing plaque.

In a study published Thursday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers in Spain used data from five consecutive flu seasons and zeroed in on 8,240 people who had Type 1 heart attacks. They found flu and cold temperatures were each independently associated with an increased risk of that kind of heart attack, and flu shots could reduce that risk among people 60 and up.

“Our results suggest influenza viruses play a major role in plaque rupture,” said study author Dr. J Alberto García-Lledó, head of cardiology at Hospital Universitario Príncipe de Asturias in Madrid. “The study reinforces the need to conduct prevention campaigns during cold waves and influenza seasons. The most important prevention tool we have is influenza vaccination.”

García-Lledó said health experts usually aim for a 60%-70% flu vaccination rate for people over 60 as well as people with high-risk conditions and health care workers.

“Sadly, these targets are not met in Europe or the U.S. It’s important to try to reach this target and, if possible, exceed it,” he said. “Influenza is not a trivial disease. It causes many preventable deaths for reasons other than the respiratory disease itself.”

A 2018 study found the risk of heart attack was six times higher within a week of confirmed flu infection. The findings were most pronounced for older adults and those experiencing their first heart attack. A study published last year of more than 80,000 U.S. adults hospitalized with flu over eight flu seasons found that sudden, serious heart complications were common and occurred in 1 in 8 patients.

The American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association have long recommended the flu vaccine to protect against cardiovascular disease complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone 6 months and older.

In late March, the CDC said weekly flu infections in the U.S. were “unusually low.” But the agency cautioned that COVID-19 has made measuring flu cases more difficult, and it warned flu activity could rise in coming months.

While flu season typically peaks between December and February, it can last as late as May, which is why the CDC still urges people to get a flu shot this spring.

Dr. Daniel Muñoz said the new study in Madrid was limited by being done in a single metro area with a temperate climate.

“It would be interesting to see whether these data can be replicated across a diverse array of geographic locations,” said Muñoz, an associate professor of cardiology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville who was not involved in the research.

But he said it was “a smart, thoughtful study that shines further light on the notion that the flu is an infection that affects the whole body. It contributes to the growing body of evidence that flu vaccinations save lives.”

The research also underscores the need for medical professionals “to think outside of our clinical comfort zone,” Muñoz said.

“As cardiologists, we learn the traditional tried-and-true risk factors, like smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. But we also have to keep our eyes wide open about other risk factors. We have to ask our patients, ‘Have you gotten your flu vaccination?’ And when necessary, educate them about the benefits of getting one.”

Source: American Heart Association

Could the Flu Shot Lower Your Risk for Alzheimer’s?

Serena Gordon wrote . . . . . . . . .

Getting vaccinated to protect against pneumonia and flu may offer an unexpected benefit — a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, new research suggests.

Two new studies being presented Monday at this summer’s virtual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference found a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s in people who got flu and pneumonia vaccines. A third study underscored the importance of prevention, reporting that people with dementia are more likely than others to die if they get serious infections.

“For people concerned about Alzheimer’s disease, these vaccines may provide an extra protective effect,” said Albert Amran, who is presenting his findings on flu vaccine and Alzheimer’s. Amran is a medical student at McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.

He and his team looked at a nationwide database of more than 9,000 people over age 60. They found that people who had received at least one flu shot had a 17% reduction in Alzheimer’s disease risk. And those who consistently got their annual flu shot had an even lower risk, Amran said.

For people between ages 75 and 84, this translated to an almost 6% lower Alzheimer’s risk over 16 years, the researchers noted.

Amran pointed out that the study can only show a link between vaccines and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Without a clinical trial, we can’t say for sure that there’s a causative effect,” he said.

Svetlana Ukraintseva, an associate research professor at Duke University in Durham, N.C., led the second study, which examined Alzheimer’s risk among more than 5,100 seniors. It found that people who got pneumonia and flu shots between 65 and 75 years of age had up to 30% lower odds of Alzheimer’s.

People with genes that increase Alzheimer’s risk didn’t have as much of a vaccine-related reduction. This study didn’t find a reduction in Alzheimer’s risk based on flu shots alone.

Heather Snyder, vice president of medicine and scientific affairs at the Alzheimer’s Association, said it’s not yet clear how getting vaccinated might help reduce Alzheimer’s risk: Does having a particular infection affect the brain somehow, setting the stage for Alzheimer’s? Does getting a vaccine lead to a reduction in inflammation and other factors tied to the disease? Or, do people who get shots have healthier habits, such as exercising regularly, which can protect their brains?

“It’s too early to tell,” Snyder said, adding that with the emergence of COVID-19, it may be even more important to figure out. “When you look at what can contribute to your risk of Alzheimer’s disease over your life course, this may be one piece of a big puzzle.”

But the third study shows that preventing flu and pneumonia is vital in folks who already have dementia, because they’re at far greater risk of death from serious infections.

The study, led by Janet Janbek of the Danish Dementia Research Centre at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, looked at roughly 1.5 million people in Denmark. It found that people with dementia who were hospitalized due to an infection had more than six times the risk of death compared to people with neither dementia nor an infection.

What’s more, the risk remained higher for as much as 10 years, the study found.

Although these studies don’t show a definitive cause-and-effect link between Alzheimer’s disease and flu and pneumonia vaccines, Amran and Snyder said it’s still a good idea to follow immunization recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC recommends an annual flu shot for almost everyone 6 months of age and older. The pneumonia vaccine is typically given to people age 65 and older.

Findings presented at meetings are typically viewed as preliminary until they’re published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Source: HealthDay


Today’s Comic