The claim: Doctors are pushing an ‘untested’ flu vaccine with a ‘very low strain’ of the coronavirus in it
As flu season nears, doctors around the country are advocating that people receive the seasonal influenza vaccine, which health experts say is more important than usual amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They say having more defenses against the seasonal flu will help put less strain on the medical system, which will then help the country have more capacity to combat the novel coronavirus.
But some claims on social media have advised against taking the vaccine by incorrectly conflating the flu shot with a potential vaccine for the coronavirus, the latter of which is still in development.
Facebook user Madyson Marquette on Sept. 15 posted what she said was an exchange with her son’s pediatrician regarding the flu shot. During the exchange, she said, her son’s doctor told her the strain of the flu for the shot was “Covid, but a very low strain of it.” The implication is that “Covid” is referring to the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, the disease that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans.
Marquette’s post says she told the doctor she wouldn’t give her child an “untested Covid flu shot.” She alleges the doctor said they were pushing it because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is asking them to.
“Wake UP and for all (that) is Holy DO NOT GIVE your children a Covid vaccine!!” her post said.
Marquette’s post had more than 7,000 shares as of Friday afternoon. She did not return a USA TODAY request for additional information.
More: How the CDC failed public health officials fighting the coronavirus
The coronavirus is not a strain of the flu, and it’s not in the flu shot
Both the seasonal flu and the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, are viruses that can cause fever, cough, shortness of breath and other symptoms.
But SARS-CoV-2 is not a strain of the flu. Instead, it’s part of a family of coronaviruses that includes some that give people upper respiratory illnesses. Experts say the novel coronavirus is also much deadlier than the seasonal flu.
This year’s flu shot neither contains the coronavirus, nor elements meant to protect people from it.
More: Data, data and more data will make a coronavirus vaccine safe, USA TODAY’s vaccine panel says
Each year, researchers update the flu shot in order to protect those who receive it from strains of the influenza virus. The shot protects against either three strains (trivalent) or four strains (quadrivalent). Changes for the 2020-2021 flu vaccine include modified components to combat some updated flu strains, but there are no additions to the shot listed to combat coronaviruses, according to the CDC’s website.
A Reuters fact-check that reviewed the contents of flu vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found none contained SARS-CoV-2 or other coronaviruses.
The FDA tests and approves all influenza vaccines, according to the CDC, meaning no child or adult would be offered an “untested” flu shot by a doctor.
The flu shot, explained: It’s crucial to get a flu shot this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, doctors say
Also, neither the CDC nor any physician is pushing a coronavirus vaccine because there isn’t one to push. The vaccine remains under development, and it’s unknown for sure when one will become widely available in the United States.
According to the New York Times’ Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker, 40 vaccines are in clinical trials on humans, and at least 92 are being tested on animals. Some vaccines in China and Russia have been approved for early or limited use, but none has reached the point of being administered to the American public.
Medical professionals have also debunked the idea that those who take the flu vaccine would be more likely to test positive for the coronavirus or become sick with it. According to the CDC, there’s no evidence that either would occur. The CDC also says the flu vaccine will not protect against catching the coronavirus.
Our ruling: False
While the exact wording of the verbal exchange between the author of the Facebook post and her son’s pediatrician is unknown, her post contains multiple false claims.
COVID-19 is not a strain of the flu — it’s a coronavirus — and would not be present in a seasonal flu vaccine. The current flu shot does not contain the novel coronavirus, nor is there evidence that receiving the shot would increase or decrease a person’s chances of catching COVID-19. Each flu shot is scrutinized and approved by the FDA, so it’s not “untested.” And, no coronavirus vaccine has made it beyond the clinical trial stage in the U.S., and is thus not available to the public at this point.
For those reasons, we rate this post as FALSE.
Our fact-check sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 12, 2018, When is flu season
USA Today, Aug. 17, A flu shot doesn’t always protect you, but amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Sept. 18, Coronavirus resource center
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 31, What is the difference between influenza (flu) and COVID-19?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 31, Influenza (flu): What you need to know for 2020-21
Reuters, Sept. 18, Fact-check: The flu vaccine is not an untested COVID-19
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sept. 10, Influenza (flu): How flu vaccines are made
USA Today, Sept. 17, Data, data and more data will make a coronavirus vaccine safe, USA TODAY’s vaccine panel says
The New York Times, Sept. 18, Coronavirus vaccine tracker
USA Today, April 1, Fact check: Getting the flu shot doesn’t make you more (or less) likely to get the coronavirus
Ian Richardson covers the Iowa Statehouse for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at [email protected], or on Twitter at @DMRIanR.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Flu shot is not an ‘untested’ vaccine to fight COVID-19