Doctors and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that individuals get vaccinated every flu season. This year’s vaccine protects against four different strains of the flu expected to circulate. Photo credit: Samantha Winn

As Dr. Deborah Greenhouse moved through a recent day of treating sick youngsters and performing wellness checks, she found herself batting down conspiracy theories linking the common flu vaccine to the highly anticipated COVID-19 vaccine.

The encounters were so alarming, she tweeted out her frustration:

Greenhouse, a physician with Palmetto Pediatric and Adolescent Clinic in Columbia, was first told by a family about a Facebook post that claimed the seasonal flu shot included a weak strain of the coronavirus.

We can’t refute that because the parents that believe this think that we are being duped as well. They think that the physicians giving the flu vaccine are giving it in good faith, but that it truly contains the COVID vaccine and that we don’t know it either.”

She went on: “So, there is no facts, there is no science that we can use to argue that point. It is simply misinformation. The flu vaccine is the flu vaccine. There is no licensed COVID vaccine on the market anyway. How it could possibly have gotten itself incorporated in the flu vaccine vials would be beyond me.”

Facebook flagged the post as misinformation, but it has already been “shared” on the popular social media site more than 6,000 times. The COVID-19 vaccine is currently in clinical trials and still needs approval from the Federal Drug Administration.

Greenhouse said skepticism toward vaccines is not new.

“There are always parents that believe that it does not work. There are always parents who believe that you can catch the flu from the shot, which is not true because it is not a live vaccine,” Greenhouse said. “There are always some parents that are hesitant about vaccines in general. Those are concerns that we can at least just try to refute by discussing data and science and studies and facts that will actually support the idea that the flu vaccine is the best defense that we have against the flu.”

According to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, South Carolina has seen a decrease in routine immunizations.

“I think with the COVID virus, it causes a big problem for us as pediatricians because less people are coming into the office and getting vaccinated on time because they are scared to get the COVID virus,” Dr. Ranya Charka, pediatrician at Rock Hill Pediatrics and immunization liaison for the South Carolina chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said.

“They don’t want to be around a lot of people and being at a physician’s office, you are exposed to sick people. So they are scared to bring their babies in so they don’t get vaccinated on time and now we are kind of opening the door to losing that immunity that we had before keeping those illnesses at bay.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a strict immunization schedule for all American infants and school-aged children for such childhood diseases as mumps, measles and chicken pox.

Charka is concerned about the twin dangers of influenza and coronavirus during the upcoming winter season.

“It is hard to say what will happen this year but a big concern is overwhelming the medical facilities for coming in with your flu, cold, cough, congestion, body aches, muscle pains and fatigue, but you are also coming in with coronavirus type symptoms as well, which are the same influenza like symptoms,” Charka said. “So, being able to differentiate the two of those plus coming in for visits, there is going to be an overwhelming demand. I think that is the biggest and scariest part.” 

Greenhouse is afraid people will continue to relax social distancing measures that are key to preventing the spread of COVID-19. And she worries  that returning to school could cause further spread of the coronavirus and the flu  during the winter months.

Over the past six years,  South Carolina has experienced an average of 140 flu-related deaths each year, according to DHEC.

“If I thought that everyone was actually doing that, then I would say that this would actually be a very light flu season. But then again, you look at the pictures of those parties and you think that no it’s not going to be,” Greenhouse said. “It has the potential to be a really awful flu season if that stuff continues. It’s hard to say.”

The best way to ensure South Carolinians can stay healthy from the flu and COVID-19 is to continue to social distance, wear masks and get the flu shot. Both Greenhouse and Charka recommend families to research medical information from reputable sources like the CDC, World Health Organization and doctors.

“This year, this may be the most important flu shot of your life,” Dr. Brannon Traxler, interim DHEC Public Health Director said in a press release. “We’re experiencing the worst public health crisis in 100 years, and it’s never been more important for each and every one of us to stay as healthy as possible. We owe it to ourselves, our loved ones, and the essential workers and first responders who are tirelessly dedicated in their service to the public as we all endure this pandemic together.”

Dr. Deborah Greenhouse is active on Twitter, and shared her experience with parents on the misinformation of the flu and COVID vaccines. 

This screenshot of a retweet shared by Dr. Greenhouse is one example of misinformation regarding the COVID vaccine being injected into the flu vaccine. 

Facebook flagged this post as misinformation and is providing links to news articles. The post currently has over 6,700 shares and is still sharable.