The yearly influenza season threatens to make the COVID-19 pandemic doubly deadly, but I believe that this isn’t inevitable.
There are two commonly given vaccines – the pneumococcal vaccine and the Hib vaccine – that protect against bacterial pneumonias. These bacteria complicate both influenza and COVID-19, often leading to death. My examination of disease trends and vaccination rates leads me to believe that broader use of the pneumococcal and Hib vaccines could guard against the worst effects of a COVID-19 illness.
I am an immunologist and physiologist interested in the effects of combined infections on immunity. I have reached my insight by juxtaposing two seemingly unrelated puzzles: Infants and children get SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but very rarely become hospitalized or die; and case numbers and death rates from COVID-19 began varying greatly from nation to nation and city to city even before lockdowns began. I wondered why.
One night I woke up with a possible answer: vaccination rates. Most children, beginning at age two months, are vaccinated against numerous diseases; adults less so. And, both infant and adult vaccination rates vary widely across the world. Could differences in the rates of vaccination against one or more diseases account for differences in COVID-19 risks? As someone who had previously investigated other pandemics such as the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918-19 and AIDS, and who has worked with vaccines, I had a strong background for tracking down the relevant data to test my hypothesis.
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