Fact Check: Flu and COVID-19 Are NOT Identical Illnesses, So Vaccine Recommendations Vary

Fact Check

  • by: Dana Ford
Fact Check: Flu and COVID-19 Are NOT Identical Illnesses, So Vaccine Recommendations Vary COVID-19 ≠ Flu

Are flu and COVID-19 identical illnesses, meaning that vaccine recommendations for each are the same? No, that's not true: The recommendations may vary as the illnesses are distinct. During an interview in 2004, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that a woman who recently had the flu did not need the flu vaccine "because the best vaccination is to get infected yourself." Some commenters on the clip appeared to think his advice should apply equally to COVID-19 patients, but that's not true. Health experts continue to recommend that people get the COVID vaccine, even if they have already had COVID and recovered.

A clip from the old interview appeared in a Facebook post (archived here) on March 31, 2022. The post's caption reads:

How has no one in the media found this Anthony Fauci clip sooner?

He actually makes sense.

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

image (78).png

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri Apr 1 14:38:00 2022 UTC)

Fauci's full interview, from 2004, can be seen here. The relevant part starts at 30:07. Responding to a question about a caller, Fauci said at 30:10:

If she got the flu for 14 days, she's as protected as anybody can be because the best vaccination is to get infected yourself.

Although his interview predates the COVID-19 pandemic by more than 15 years, many commenters on the Facebook post interpreted Fauci's comments as applying equally to people who have had COVID and recovered. For example, one wrote:

Makes perfect sense, just like if you get Covid, your system is just that much 💪

While it is true that getting COVID offers some natural immunity from reinfection, health experts continue to recommend that people get vaccinated, even if they have already had COVID. There are several reasons behind that recommendation.

First, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who had COVID and do not get vaccinated are more likely to get COVID again than those who got vaccinated after their recovery.

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the World Health Organization, explains why:

After getting COVID, people do get an immune response, but this varies from person to person, and it depends on whether you had a mild infection or whether you had [a] more severe infection. And we know from many studies now that if you've had a very mild or asymptomatic infection, then many people may have very low levels of antibodies that they form. So this is why we still recommend that even if you've had COVID infection, that you should go ahead and take the vaccination when it's available to you.

The vaccine works to boost the immune system, Swaminathan said. Her full comments can be heard below:

Additionally, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, people who were infected with earlier versions of COVID and who have not been vaccinated may be more vulnerable to new variants of the virus.

Johns Hopkins also stressed a final point, which is that getting COVID-19 is extremely risky. It can cause long-term disease, hospitalization and death. Flu, similarly, can cause severe illness and death, but COVID is more contagious than flu viruses. It is also more deadly. Johns Hopkins reports:

The COVID-19 situation continues to change, sometimes rapidly. Doctors and scientists are working to estimate the mortality rate of COVID-19. At present, it is thought to be substantially higher (possibly 10 times or more) than that of most strains of the flu.

Lead Stories has previously debunked various claims comparing COVID-19 to the flu. See here, here and here, for some of those stories, in which we found that COVID is deadlier than the seasonal flu, that COVID is not comparable to the flu in terms of "harmfulness, mortality and transmissibility," and "flurona" is not a new cross-breed virus resulting from a combination of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and seasonal influenza.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

  Dana Ford

Dana Ford is an Atlanta-based reporter and editor. She previously worked as a senior editor at Atlanta Magazine Custom Media and as a writer/ editor for CNN Digital. Ford has more than a decade of news experience, including several years spent working in Latin America.

Read more about or contact Dana Ford

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