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Does The Flu Vaccine Really Increase Vulnerability To Coronavirus?

You may have been surprised to discover that, in the midst of this unprecedented modern global pandemic, that you suddenly have many expert immunologists, virologists, and epidemiologists on your timeline.

Unfortunately, there aren’t, in actuality, quite as many experts on combating novel diseases as there are semi-competent meme designers out there, so it can be quite difficult to parse truth from fiction, not to mention everything in between.

One claim that I had often seen repeated is that the flu vaccine increases susceptibility to the coronavirus. Although I personally am always down to question the efficacy of vaccines and firmly oppose mandating vaccines of any kind as well as the methods in which many common immunizations are developed, tested, and administered, as with many of the claims that have been put out there by the general narrative-seeking public, I had my doubts.

However, I was quite surprised to recently read about a DOD study which appears to have confirmed this claim rather distinctly, as reported by the outlet Just The News.

So, does the flu vaccine, in fact, increase one’s vulnerability to the novel virus? Well yes. Sort of.

A few weeks before the pandemic began to take form, a medical researcher published his findings on members of the military who receive the flu shot. It didn’t receive much attention at the time, but the findings of the study are now raising questions on how to prevent and treat infectious diseases.

The study, “Influenza vaccination and respiratory virus interference among Department of Defense personnel during the 2017-2018 influenza season,” was published in Science magazine by Dr. Gregory Wolff and addressed a suspected phenomenon known as "virus interference."

What Wolff, a researcher with the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch Air Force Satellite at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, wanted to determine was whether or not the flu vaccine could increase the potential for infection from other respiratory viruses. At the time, the novel coronavirus had not yet been discovered, but you can already see why this study is now being re-examined through a post-COVID-19 lens.

His test population, members of the military, was ideal, as the majority of servicemen and women are required to receive the flu vaccine every year.

Overall, the "receipt of influenza vaccination was not associated with virus interference” among the DOD personnel, Wolff wrote.

However, “Examining virus interference by specific respiratory viruses showed mixed results,” he added.

Ultimately, it seems that while he discovered that the flu vaccine appeared effective at warding off the flu, it also may increase the likelihood of infection from other non-influenza viruses.

“Vaccine derived virus interference was significantly associated with coronavirus and human metapneumovirus. However, significant protection with vaccination was associated not only with most influenza viruses, but also parainfluenza, RSV, and non-influenza virus co-infections,” he wrote.

As you’re likely aware, vaccine skeptics tend to be particularly skeptical of the flu vaccine, so the fact that this study concludes the recommended annual shot is effective in preventing the influenza virus will surely raise some eyebrows.

So if you’d like to lean on this study to support the claim that the flu vaccine may worsen your chances of contracting the novel coronavirus, you’d have to swallow its apparent confirmation that the flu vaccine is effective in what it is designed to do.

It is also important to note, again, that the study was not specific to COVID-19, which only emerged long after the study was concluded. Any findings that bear weight on this novel disease only relate to the broader coronavirus family.

Bear in mind that, while the study was peer-reviewed, it is what’s known as a retrospective study rather than a live trial.

So, what can we really conclude from this study? Long story short, the most we can safely say is that more research on this pressing question of virus interference is, as Just the News notes, that “more research likely needs to be done to understand how people who get flu shots and contract a coronavirus might need to be treated.”

So if you’re a vaccine skeptic like I am, take heart. The “science” is often spun to seem like it’s against us, but it’s not. It’s complicated, and this study certainly shows that the flu vaccine has a potentially deadly trade-off, even when shown to protect against strains of influenza.

By even the most basic understanding of scientific conclusions, some vaccines have been shown to be highly effective at serving their purpose, while others have shown to come with a plethora of moral and medical concerns in addition to failing to protect from infection far too often.

Vaccines are not magic cloaks of protection against viruses, and, based on the very nature of how they are meant to function, it’s impossible to imagine that they’re completely free of potential interference with our natural immune system.

While you wouldn’t really know it from the way our culture treats scientists, researchers, and medical practitioners, they’re not gods, and their vaccines are most certainly not cure-alls.

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