Past pandemic experience can affect health outcomes in future pandemics. This paper focuses on the last major influenza pandemic in 1968 (H3N2), which killed up to 100,000 people in the US. We find that places with high influenza mortality in 1968 experienced 1-4% lower COVID-19 death rates. Our identification strategy isolates variation in COVID-19 rates across people born before and after 1968. In places with high 1968 influenza incidence, older cohorts experience lower COVID-19 death rates relative to younger ones. The relationship holds using county and patient-level data, as well as in hospital and nursing home settings. Results do not appear to be driven by systemic or policy-related factors, instead suggesting an individual-level response to prior influenza pandemic exposure. The findings merit investigation into potential biological and immunological mechanisms that account for these differences—and their implications for future pandemic preparedness.
Taylor, Charles A., Christopher Boulos, and Matthew J. Memoli. "The 1968 Influenza Pandemic and COVID-19 Outcomes." September 2022.