Why Immunologists Say It’s a Smart Idea To Get Your Flu Shot at the Same Time as Your COVID-19 Booster (If You Qualify)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can safely receive both vaccines in the same visit. "It's not uncommon to give vaccines together, and usually this causes no issue," says Annette Regan, PhD, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health assistant professor of epidemiology. "For example, my son is getting his 18-month vaccinations this afternoon, and he's getting three shots at once. This doesn't change in adulthood." However, if you've had a severe reaction to an immunization (or the flu shot specifically) in the past, "you should speak to your doctor, and you may want to space the vaccines at least 14 days apart," she says.
As for whether or not you should prepare to feel extra bad in the day or so after your dual immunizations, Dr. Regan says it depends on your immune response. "Most people feel fine after a flu shot; however, it is not uncommon to feel some soreness or tenderness at the injection site—and since the vaccine is activating our immune systems, you can feel a bit of fatigue or general unwellness afterward. This usually resolves within 24 hours."
If getting your flu shot is on the bottom of your to-do list, you're not alone. According to Dr. Regan, it's not unusual for proponents of COVID-19 vaccines to ignore flu shots altogether. "I think the flu vaccine is commonly overlooked," she says. "About 45 percent of US adults get a flu vaccine each year. This went up to 48 percent last flu season (our first season during the COVID-19 pandemic), and I'm hoping this percentage will continue to increase this season, with vaccines becoming easier to access and the need to prevent these respiratory infections in our communities."
It's important to remember, she reiterates, that flu shots don't just protect you—they also protect children, older people, and others who are more susceptible to severe influenza. The CDC estimates that 380,000 people were hospitalized with the flu in 2020, and 20,000 people died. "Both COVID-19 and influenza can cause serious respiratory disease," Dr. Regan says. "Not only is this bad for the ill individual, but it's also bad for our healthcare systems." Dr. Regan notes that our hospital systems are already under a lot of stress, with many around the country at or near capacity.
When hospitals are overextended, she notes, it makes managing other health problems—e.g., heart attacks, car accidents, strokes—more difficult because hospital beds run short and healthcare workers are stretched too thin. "Getting your flu shot and maintaining protection against COVID-19 can help prevent the spread of influenza and COVID-19 in the community and prevent the need for hospital care," she says.
And while she does acknowledge that the preventative measures we're taking to prevent COVID-19—e.g., masking and social distancing—can help curb influenza spread, they're not perfect. For this reason, vaccines are still the most effective prevention measure against both COVID and the flu. And, if you're having significant concerns about taking them together, you can space them out. The most important thing is to make sure you get vaccinated.
Real talk: It's never fun to get one shot, let alone two. But it's best for you, your friends, family, neighbors, and society at large. And eventually, we may actually be able to knock both viruses out with one shot, Dr. Regan explains. "Moderna is investigating a multi-component vaccine that can be used to protect you against multiple respiratory viruses each year—including influenza and COVID-19, as well as other viruses like Respiratory Syncytial Virus," she says. And while it's unclear as of yet whether or not the general population will require annual COVID boosters, it's nice to know that we may be moving towards a one-shot-protects-all approach if that proves to be the case.
In the meantime, the CDC recommends getting immunized against the flu by the end of October, and if you're eligible for a COVID booster as well, you should get both as soon as possible. "It takes about 14 days for your immune system to develop the antibodies needed to protect yourself from the influenza virus," Dr. Regan says. "We can feel the cooler temperature right now, and with winter coming soon—and travel and holiday get-togethers—we want to make sure everyone is protected before the flu season hits."
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