askST: Can the flu vaccine protect me against the new coronavirus?

According to the World Health Organisation, influenza viruses constantly evolve and the composition of vaccines is therefore changed every year.
According to the World Health Organisation, influenza viruses constantly evolve and the composition of vaccines is therefore changed every year.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - More than 50 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in Singapore, and a vaccine is still in the works. Some readers have asked if they should get the influenza vaccine and if it will protect them against Covid-19.

Q: Will the influenza vaccine help protect me against the coronavirus?

A: Doctors say that the flu vaccine does not protect against the coronavirus. But it is still advisable to get the vaccine, given that influenza occurs all year round in Singapore, with slight peaks during the middle and end of each year.

"Doctors still recommend patients, especially those at high risk, to get the flu vaccine because the chances of getting flu are higher, and the flu can have potential serious complications," said Dr Edwin Chng, medical director of Parkway Shenton.

High-risk patients include the elderly and those with chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Dr Leyland Chuang, an infectious diseases specialist and consultant at Raffles Internal Medicine Centre, added: "Getting vaccinated helps to reduce the risk of contracting an influenza infection, which shares many similar symptoms and signs as Covid-19, and may thus falsely raise an alarm at screening points and result in inconveniences."

According to the World Health Organisation, influenza viruses constantly evolve and the composition of vaccines is therefore changed every year. There are different flu vaccines for the northern and southern hemisphere, as there can be significant differences in the virus strains circulating in each part of the world.

"Some flu seasons are very similar to others, so previous batches work well," said Dr Fahir Khiard, medical director of Speedoc, which provides house call services through an app. "Others are quite different - there is no way of predicting what is to come in a given flu season."

 

Dr Chng added that most clinics have run out of the northern hemisphere flu vaccine by now. The southern hemisphere vaccine should be available by the middle or end of March, he said.

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