Want to Protect Your Child From COVID-19? The Flu Shot May Help

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Key Takeaways

  • New research links the seasonal flu shot to a lowered risk of COVID-19 symptoms and severe complications in children.
  • The CDC currently says that the flu shot does not protect against COVID-19.
  • Doctors stress that more research is needed before conclusions are drawn.

Researchers from the University of Missouri have found a link between the flu shot and COVID-19 symptoms in children.

For the January study, which was published in the journal Cureus, they analyzed data from more than 900 children who were diagnosed with COVID-19 between February and August 2020. Researchers looked at the patients’ health records, including their flu vaccination history. 

The researchers discovered that children infected with COVID-19, who received the flu shot in the current flu season had a lower risk of developing COVID-19 symptoms, respiratory problems, or severe disease. They also found that children with COVID-19 who received the pneumococcal vaccine had a lower risk of developing symptoms of COVID-19.

“The results showed that viral interference may have played a role in the current flu and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) twindemic," the researchers wrote. "SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID-19] and influenza may have significantly affected each other’s epidemiological features."

While experts stress this is just one study and more research is needed, they say the results are interesting.

“This is surprising because the influenza vaccination is protecting the body from the influenza virus, which is genetically different from COVID-19,” Ashanti Woods, MD, a pediatrician with Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center, tells Verywell. But, he adds, it’s thought that vaccinations, in general, can help bolster the immune system.

“When a child is vaccinated, we understand that it makes that child’s immune system stronger altogether,” he says. “It is not totally surprising.”

What This Means For You

While more research is needed to determine if the flu vaccine could have some protective effect against COVID-19, it's important to get your seasonal flu shot regardless, if you can. Doctors say it's not too late to get your flu shot this year if you haven't already.

How the Flu Shot Works

The seasonal flu shot protects against certain strains of influenza that researchers predict will widely circulate that year. The shot causes the development of antibodies about two weeks after you’ve been vaccinated.

The antibodies help protect against infection from the viruses used to make the vaccine. Most flu shots in the U.S. are quadrivalent, meaning they protect against four different flu viruses:

  • An influenza A (H1N1) virus
  • An influenza A (H3N2) virus
  • Two influenza B viruses

Can the Flu Shot Prevent COVID-19?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifically says, “flu vaccines do NOT protect against infection and illness caused by other viruses that also can cause flu-like symptoms.”

The CDC also explicitly states that the flu shot will not protect against COVID-19.

Danelle Fisher, MD, a pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, tells Verywell that the study is “interesting” but is retrospective, meaning the researchers looked at the data after it was collected versus following the children over time. “It’s not as powerful as if they had followed the kids in time,” she says. But, Fisher adds, “the influenza vaccine does seem to provide some tiny modicum of protection.”

Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, also warns against drawing any major conclusions just yet. “It’s just one study and needs to be verified with additional research,” he says.

But, even though the study raises a lot of questions, Fisher says she hopes it will encourage people who haven’t been vaccinated against the flu to take action. “It’s currently flu season and we’re still actively trying to get people vaccinated,” she says. “This is a strong selling point if people are on the fence about the influenza vaccine.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Patwardhan A, Ohler A. The flu vaccination may have a protective effect on the course of COVID-19 in the pediatric population: When does severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) meet influenza?. Cureus 13(1): e12533. doi:10.7759/cureus.12533

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What are the benefits of flu vaccination?

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.