Fauci Urges Americans to Get Flu Shot, As Vaccine Linked to Lower Alzheimer's Risk

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top infectious disease expert and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, has urged members of the public to get the flu vaccine and "blunt" the disease's effect amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

His comments preceded the release of a study suggesting the flu shot is not only useful for preventing the respiratory illness, but could also reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

In an interview withMarketWatch, personal-finance editor Quentin Fottrell asked Fauci how concerned he was that the U.S. will face a flu season and a rise in coronavirus cases in the coming fall or winter.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said although he hoped it wouldn't be the case, if there was "significant COVID-19 activity" going into the fall and winter "that will be problematic and complicate things because that's two respiratory infections circulating together."

Fauci said that is one of the reasons "we're telling people that, when the flu vaccine becomes available, make sure you get vaccinated so that you could at least blunt the effect of one of those two potential respiratory infections."

According to a study presented at the virtual Alzheimer's Association International Conference taking place between July 27 to 31, the flu vaccine may also protect against Alzheimer's disease. It was not clear from a press release on the study if the research had been published in a scientific journal or peer-reviewed.

Researchers at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston looked at data from 9,066 health records for their study. The participants were at least 60 years old and some had the flu shot, while others had not.

The team found that having at least one flu vaccination was linked with a 17 percent lower chance of getting Alzheimer's disease. Having it more frequently was associated with a further 13 percent drop in risk.

And the sooner an individual got their first vaccine, the stronger the association found.

Co-author Albert Amran, a medical student at the McGovern Medical School, told NPR the team tried to compare participants with similar lifestyles who had or had not got the flu shot.

Amran said in a statement: "Our study suggests that regular use of a very accessible and relatively cheap intervention—the flu shot—may significantly reduce risk of Alzheimer's dementia.

"More research is needed to explore the biological mechanism for this effect—why and how it works in the body—which is important as we explore effective preventive therapies for Alzheimer's."

Maria C. Carrillo, the chief science officer at the Alzheimer's Association said in a statement: "With the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines are at the forefront of public health discussions. It is important to explore their benefit in not only protecting against viral or bacterial infection but also improving long-term health outcomes."

"It may turn out to be as simple as if you're taking care of your health in this way—getting vaccinated—you're also taking care of yourself in other ways, and these things add up to lower risk of Alzheimer's and other dementias," Carrillo said.

Dr. Richard Isaacson, a neurologist who did not work on the study and founder of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medical Center, told CNN the findings are encouraging and build on prior evidence that vaccination against common infectious diseases like the flu are linked with a lower risk of Alzheimer's and a delay in developing the disease.

Isaacson said: "Regular use of the flu vaccine, especially starting at an early age, may help prevent viral infections that could cause cascading effects on the immune system and inflammatory pathways. These viral infections may trigger Alzheimer's related cognitive decline."

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A stock image shows a person receiving a vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci said getting a flu vaccine could blunt the effect of that virus and the coronavirus which causes COVID-19. Getty Image