Durban – While there is no scientific or medical research that proves that the flu vaccine can protect against Covid-19, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases’ Professor Cheryl Cohen believes it could help to protect residents against the flu, which could be confused for coronavirus as South Africa heads towards flu season.
Cohen, who heads up the NICD’s Respiratory Diseases and Meningitis unit, said there was no evidence to support claims that the vaccine protected against the coronavirus.
“Influenza is a very common infection that can be inconvenient and keep you off work. If you are in a risk group, like the elderly, pregnant women or those with HIV, AIDS or underlying illnesses, if you get influenza you could get severely ill and so the vaccine is recommended,” she said.
Cohen said in addition, in this time when the coronavirus is circulating, there were extra reasons why the vaccination should be taken.
“The main reason is because flu has exactly or very similar signs and symptoms to coronavirus. Having the influenza vaccine reduces your chances of catching the flu and confusing it with Covid-19,” Cohen explained.
In an interview with Spotlight, director of the South African Medical Research Council Respiratory and Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit Professor Shabir Madhi, said the flu vaccine gives the body the necessary tools it needs to fight off flu.
“The vaccine is training the immune system to produce antibodies to the head of a specific protein on the surface of the flu virus, called hemagglutinin. The head of this hemagglutinin is what our immune system is responding to,” he said.
“When the virus infects a cell and makes us sick, the hemagglutinin binds the virus on to our cells, sort of like a glue. The flu vaccine is providing us with antigens, which results in our bodies producing antibodies – strong proteins that help our cells fight the head of the hemagglutinin. If the head of hemagglutinin can be defeated by these antibodies, we won’t become sick with the flu because the virus has no way of binding and infecting our cells,” he said.
By Se-Anne Rall