EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - As New Jersey drifts into flu season, many residents will once again decide whether to get their flu shots; where to get them; and if a flu shot has any preventative impact on COVID-19. The differences between the two viruses affect not only the mortality rate and symptom development, but also prevention and cure.
According to the World Health Organization WHO the speed of transmission is an important point of difference between the two viruses. Influenza can spread faster than COVID-19. Most cases are spread within 3 days of contact with an infected person. COVID often takes 5 to 6 days.
*You will get symptoms from the flu faster than you will get them from COVID.
Children are important drivers of influenza virus transmission in the community. For COVID-19 virus, initial data indicates that children are less affected than adults and that clinical attack rates in the 0-19 age group are low. Further preliminary data from household transmission studies in China suggest that children are infected from adults, rather than vice versa.
*Adults get the flu from children and other adults. Children and adults get COVID from adults.
While the range of symptoms for the two viruses is similar, the fraction with severe disease appears to be different. For COVID-19, data to date suggest that 80% of infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15% are severe infection, requiring oxygen and 5% are critical infections, requiring ventilation. These fractions of severe and critical infection would be higher than what is observed for influenza infection.
*Though some symptoms are similar between influenza and COVID, 20% of people become seriously ill from COVID.
Those most at risk for severe influenza infection are children, pregnant women, elderly, those with underlying chronic medical conditions and those who are immunosuppressed. For COVID-19, our current understanding is that older age and underlying conditions increase the risk for severe infection.
*Elderly people and those with chronic medical conditions are at risk for both viruses. Children and pregnant women are very vulnerable to the flu.
Mortality for COVID-19 appears higher than for influenza, especially seasonal influenza. While the true mortality of COVID-19 will take some time to fully understand, the data available so far indicate that the number of reported deaths divided by the reported cases is between 3-4%. For seasonal influenza, mortality is usually well below 0.1%. However, mortality is to a large extent determined by access to and quality of health care.
According to the CDC's most recent published statistics, 1,337 New Jerseyans died from either influenza or pneumonia in 2017. The New Jersey Department of Health today listed deaths caused by/connected to COVID-19 so far in 2020 totaling 14,165.
*COVID is far more deadly than the seasonal flu is. Additionally, many people die because they lack appropriate health care.
According to the CDC, Getting a flu vaccine will not protect against COVID-19, however flu vaccination has many other important benefits. Flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death. Getting a flu vaccine this fall will be more important than ever, not only to reduce your risk from flu but also to help conserve potentially scarce health care resources.
*The flu shot does not prevent COVID, but it helps in several other ways. It is possible to have both the flu and COVID at the same time.
The CDC states that there will be almost 200 million flu shots available this year. However, it is unlikely that flu shots will be given in an office environment (workplace) due to social distancing. They suggest using Vaccine Finder to learn where you can get a flu shot, flu vaccine inhaler, egg-free shots, or amplified shots for people over 65.
*There are 106 locations near East Brunswick where flu shots will be available in October, according to Vaccine Finder.