Virologists Strongly Encourage Getting the Flu Vaccine This Year, Now More Important Than Ever
St. Jude Virus Experts Warns as a COVID Vaccine is Still in Development, We Need to Utilize the Available Flu Vaccine
MEMPHIS, TENN. – As the number of COVID cases tops 5 million in the United States and the potential for a dual influenza and COVID season this fall, virology experts with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital offer a critical reminder that it’s important to get a flu shot as soon as it becomes available next month. The CDC has recommended Americans receive this year’s influenza vaccine in September to build immunity for the upcoming flu season.
“The combination of both the coronavirus and influenza virus swirling together throughout the U.S. this fall and winter has the potential to exacerbate the strain on an already struggling public health system,” warns Richard Webby, Ph.D., flu virologist at St. Jude Children’s Hospital and the World Health Organization. “The two viruses cause initial symptoms that are difficult to distinguish, have their biggest effect on the elderly and those with similar underlying conditions, and, at the severe end of the disease spectrum, cause competition for similar life-saving hospital equipment.”
Dr. Webby recently appeared on CNN New Day and made these and other comments warning Americans to get a flu shot in a CNN guest opinion piece, “Why it’s vital to get your flu vaccine this year.” He is also director of a World Health Organization influenza Collaborating Center responsible for recommending the makeup of each year's flu vaccine.
“Let me state this as clearly and unambiguously as possible: get the flu shot starting in September. Don't wait for reports of a spike in the influenza virus before taking advantage of the vaccine. Getting the flu shot at the beginning of the season allows for the time needed to build up immunity and protection from this year's influenza virus,” wrote Dr. Webby.
Stacey Schultz-Cherry, Ph.D., a virologist with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, recently spoke to The New York Times and is leading the National Institute of Health funded Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance charged with the effort to develop a universal flu vaccine. As numerous studies are being conducted to test the effectiveness of a vaccine to guard against COVID, experts indicate that the development of a COVID-19 vaccine is different than one for the flu.
“A vaccine for COVID-19 is a little bit different from a flu vaccine. We’ve had experience with flu vaccines, and you have established platforms, but COVID-19 is a new virus no one has seen before and you have to take more precautions,” said Stacey Schultz-Cherry, Ph.D., a virologist with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “It may not be something people want to hear, but the worst thing to do is release a COVID vaccine that’s not safe because we were in a hurry. We’re looking at the impact on different populations because we don’t know all the complications and long-term effects. That will be the next thing we’ll need to address. The genie is out of the bottle, but we can still control how the genie behaves.”