A meme widely shared on Facebook shows a picture of Bill Gates holding a needle with his face painted like the supervillain “The Joker” and says, “Do you honestly believe that in 70 years of research and development we have a 40% effective flu shot but in 10 months a 95% effective Rona shot?” Comparing the efficacy of the vaccines suggest they both inoculate patients from the same virus. The viruses are different, and comparing the efficacy of the vaccines is misleading.
Although COVID-19 and influenza are both contagious respiratory diseases and share some symptoms, they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is a disease caused by the SARS-COV-2 virus. Influenza (seasonal flu) is a disease caused by various types of influenza viruses: A, B, C and D. More on the various kinds of influenza viruses can be read on the C.D.C. site here.
From the CDC page "flu vs. COVID"
While the virus that causes COVID-19 and flu viruses are thought to spread in similar ways, the virus that causes COVID-19 is generally more contagious than flu viruses. Also, COVID-19 has been observed to have more superspreading events than flu. This means the virus that causes COVID-19 can quickly and easily spread to a lot of people and result in continual spreading among people as time progresses.
Overall, COVID-19 seems to cause more serious illnesses in some people. COVID-19 illness can cause hospitalization and death, even in healthy people. Most people who get flu will recover on their own in a few days to two weeks, with some exceptions of serious complications, requiring hospitalization, mainly with the elderly or young children.
There are multiple FDA-licensed influenza vaccines produced annually to protect against the 4 flu viruses that scientists expect will circulate each year. The benefits of flu vaccines can vary, depending on the age and overall health of the person being vaccinated. The effectiveness of a flu vaccine also depends on how well the vaccines “match” the flu viruses spreading in the community. A study published in the journal Vaccine in June 2021 showed that among adults, flu vaccination was associated with a 26% lower risk of ICU admission and a 31% lower risk of death from flu compared to those who were unvaccinated. However, the flu viruses are constantly changing so it is not possible to predict the efficacy of the vaccination with certainty. New vaccines must be created to match the new strains on an annual basis. Therefore, it is not correct to assert that scientists have been working on one single flu vaccine for 70 years.
The authorized COVID-19 vaccines target just one virus, SARS-COV-2. Initial research suggests that there are at least six strains of SARS-CoV-2. The mutation rate is lower than the influenza viruses with less variability, making it easier to develop a vaccine. Vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are being administered in the U.S. right now. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have an efficacy rate above 90%. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a 72% overall efficacy and 86% efficacy against moderate and severe disease in the U.S., according to analyses posted by the FDA in February. There has been a huge global effort to pool resources in order to accelerate the development and production of the COVID-19 vaccine, such as Operation Warp Speed in the United States.
David Cennimo, an infectious disease expert at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School discusses how the coronavirus and the flu are similar and different...
Both spread predominantly through respiratory droplets and contact. There seem to be more asymptomatic cases of coronavirus than influenza, but both are capable of being spread before a person knows they are infected – about one to two days before any symptoms appear. Influenza contagiousness is usually over within a week while coronavirus is around 10 days. Both can cause a spectrum of illness ranging from mild to critical illness and death.