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By Karen Kier, Pharmacist on behalf of the ONU HealthWise team

Synergy is defined by as “the interaction of elements that when combined produces a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements.” Science is proving that synergy is improving outcomes with COVID-19 infections and protection. Some of these synergies are surprising and are good news to help move the pandemic into an endemic.  In addition, I am excited when the material I teach to students becomes applicable in the real world! I teach that efficacy studies are tightly controlled but may not be reflective of what we actually do. Often, we may not adhere to medications or guidelines as prescribed, so real-world information helps us understand the science in an imperfect world.  

A study published by the University of Miami School of Medicine evaluating 37,377 COVID-19 cases from around the world found that patients who had received a flu vaccine had less severe complications from COVID-19. Yes, this is not a typo. You are reading it correctly. The flu shot protected against blood clots in the legs, sepsis (blood infection) and stroke. This is an excellent example of synergy because a flu shot can reduce severe complications of COVID-19.  In the study, it demonstrated if the patient had not received a flu shot, they were 20% more likely to end up in the intensive care unit (ICU) with COVID-19 than those who had the flu vaccine. This is especially good news, since it is never too late to get a flu vaccine. This phenomenon has been published in the literature long before COVID-19 became a pandemic.  Past outbreaks including flu and measles have had improved outcomes when other vaccines have stimulated the immune system. A study by Kaiser Permanente found the individuals over the age of 65 years who had received a conjugate pneumonia vaccine had some additional protection from developing COVID-19. While some COVID-19 vaccines have been in short supply around the world, other vaccines such as flu, oral polio, and pneumonia vaccines have not been as hard to find.  

Why would the flu and other vaccines provide synergy?  

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science indicated that vaccines have a generalized impact on the immune system and result in a bolster to the body’s ability to fight off infections. This is a property called cross protection. The boost to the immune system appears to provide an individual with additional resilience to other invading organisms. Think of it as the vaccine providing additional training to the immune system!

An additional consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is people are not keeping up with schedules for non-COVID-19 vaccines. Recent studies show both children and adults over the age of 65 are behind in getting their regular vaccines. So, knowing that other vaccines can help train the immune system and reduce COVID-19 complications, we should be making a better effort to keep up to date with all vaccines.  

Recently, a new pneumonia vaccine has come to the market for those over the age of 18.  Prevnar 20TM is a new pneumococcal conjugate vaccine with 20 different serotypes that can cause lung infections. Contrary to other pneumonia vaccines on the market, Prevnar 20TM only has to be administered once with no follow-up vaccine. This vaccine offers seven additional serotypes that are responsible for 40% of the pneumonia cases. These seven serotypes often have a higher rate of resistance to antibiotics making the pneumonia difficult to treat. Another pneumonia vaccine that has 15 serotypes was approved by the FDA under the brand name of Vaxneuvance TM. This vaccine requires a second pneumonia shot with the more common Pneumovax®23 that has been on the market since 1983. Data is not available yet to determine if there is a benefit to giving Prevnar 20TM if you have received the two shot pneumonia series in the past. It is important to check insurance coverage prior to getting vaccinated. 

Over time, science is proving that reducing risks from a COVID-19 infection is essential for continued health. COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines are demonstrating a benefit in protection from moderate to severe disease.  A study from the CDC revealed a higher rate of diabetes in children less than 18 years of age after recovering from COVID-19.  A study published in JAMA on February 4, 2022, indicated that type II diabetes was more common 31 to 150 days after a COVID-19 infection in adults.  

Think synergy! It is a good time to schedule an appointment for vaccines that you might be missing--including the COVID-19 vaccines.

Feel free to call the ONU HealthWise Pharmacy for the science on COVID-19. ONU HealthWise is offering COVID-19 and flu vaccines Monday through Friday from 4 pm to 6 pm. Call the pharmacy for an appointment for other time slots. The ONU HealthWise pharmacy offers Moderna, Pfizer, Janssen and flu shots and high-dose flu vaccines. Pediatric Pfizer vaccines (5 to 11-years) are available by appointment through the state Vaccine Management Solution (VMS) system.  Call the pharmacy to get more information.