If you have your COVID-19 vaccine, do you need to get the flu shot? If you or your employees recently got their COVID-19 vaccine, is there a waiting period to get the flu shot? And what role does the COVID-19 booster play?
Some may have been experiencing “vaccine fatigue,” confusion and mixed messages. Health experts are hoping this won’t keep people from getting their flu shot, as well as all of their recommended COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. In fact, many believe that getting a dose of flu shot is more important this year than ever.
Why? Flu cases have dropped to historically low levels during the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 2,038 cases between September 2020 and April 2021. Compare this with 38 million flu cases during the 2019–2020 season.1
The decrease in the number of flu cases actually increases concern.
Before the pandemic, 15–30% of the population was exposed to flu each year.2 Last year’s unusually mild flu season means that fewer people have immunity to the strains likely to be circulating this winter.
“We are worried the incredibly low influenza rates that we saw last season could create a rebound influenza epidemic this year,” says Dr. Mark Roberts, director of the Public Health Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh.3
For the upcoming flu season, flu shots will be important to reduce the overall impact of respiratory illnesses on the population and lessen the resulting burden on a healthcare system still dealing with the challenges of COVID-19.4
With the pandemic still raging, skipping the flu shot is a much riskier proposition, according to Dr. Bernard Camins, an infectious disease physician at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. “You could get the flu and need care but find hospitals overwhelmed because of COVID, or get the flu and get COVID. And especially if you are not vaccinated against the coronavirus, [you] run the risk of your immune system being overwhelmed by two viruses at the same time.” Getting back-to-back infections could result in more serious illness since the first infection may have already weakened your lungs, according to Dr. Priya Nori, an infectious disease specialist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.5
Facts and myths about the flu shot
Who should get it? The CDC says everybody, starting with 6-month-old babies. Influenza is most dangerous for adults over 65, young children, pregnant woman and people with certain health conditions, such as heart or lung disease.6
What we call “the flu” is actually any of a number of different flu viruses. 3 or 4 different strains dominate each year. A new flu vaccine is developed annually to target the viruses expected to cause disease during the upcoming flu season, which usually peaks in January.
Experts advise getting your shot by late October/early November, ahead of the season’s peak. Remember that it takes about 2 weeks for protection to develop after getting your flu shot.7
Flu shots do not cause the flu. Flu shots are made either with flu viruses that have been “inactivated” (killed) and therefore are not infectious, or with a single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus) to produce an immune response without causing infection.8
COVID-19 and flu vaccines don’t overlap. You can get both vaccines at the same visit, or get a flu shot and a COVID-19 booster at the same visit.9 Last year, the CDC recommended waiting 14 days between getting a COVID-19 vaccine and getting the flu shot, but that guidance has changed. The CDC now says that it’s safe to get both vaccines at once, but expect to get each vaccine in a different arm, which may reduce any pain and swelling that might occur.10
There are different forms of the flu shot. This year you can get traditional shots or nasal spray vaccines. There are shots designed to rev up seniors’ age-weakened immune systems, either with a higher dose or an added immune booster. There are also options for people allergic to eggs, which are used to make some flu shots.11
Where to get your flu shot
Most Americans with health insurance can get the flu shot with no co-pay.12
Children should get the flu shot through their primary physician’s office, or at a drugstore, some of which may have age restrictions. Adults can get it through their primary care physicians, at urgent care centers or at many drugstores. You can also check your local health department’s website for flu shot locations. Employers may even offer them for on-site employees.13
Regardless of where your employees get their flu shot, remind them that Go365® awards Points for preventive activities, which include vaccinations.
“You might get achy for a day,” admits Dr. Richard Novak, professor, and head of the division of infectious diseases at University of Illinois Health. “That’s a typical reaction to the vaccine, which is appropriate. It shows that your immune system is being turned on.”14
But if you get the real flu, “It feels more like you got hit by a truck,” Novak says. “The flu is a virus. It’s notorious for mutating rapidly. And, as in the 1918 flu pandemic, it can be deadly.”15
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1Sandra Guy, “Don’t forget about getting your flu shot amid the COVID pandemic,” Chicago Sun-Times, last accessed October 26, 2021, https://chicago.suntimes.com/well/2021/8/19/22619136/flu-shots-influenza-covid-vaccine-health-wellness-pandemicOpens in new window.
2Lauran Neergaard, “It’s Flu Vaccine Time, Even if You’ve Had Your COVID Shots,” U.S. News & World Report, last accessed October 26, 2021, https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2021-09-30/its-flu-vaccine-time-even-if-youve-had-your-covid-shotsOpens in new window.
3Fran Kritz, “Here are the key reasons to get a flu shot – now,” NPR, last accessed October 26, 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/09/07/1033756464/flu-shot-covid-boosterOpens in new window.
4“Flu & COVID-19,” National Kidney Foundation, last accessed October 26, 2021, https://www.kidney.org/coronavirus/flu-covid-19Opens in new window.
5“Here are the key reasons to get a flu shot – now.”
6“It’s Flu Vaccine Time, Even if You’ve Had Your COVID Shots.”
7“Flu & COVID-19.”
8“Flu & COVID-19.”
9“It’s Flu Vaccine Time, Even if You’ve Had Your COVID Shots.”
10“Here are the key reasons to get a flu shot – now.”
11“It’s Flu Vaccine Time, Even if You’ve Had Your COVID Shots.”
12“It’s Flu Vaccine Time, Even if You’ve Had Your COVID Shots.”
13Sarah Jacoby, “9 Things to Know About Getting Your Flu Shot During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Self, last accessed October 26, 2021, https://www.self.com/story/flu-shot-coronavirusOpens in new window.
14“Don’t forget about getting your flu shot amid the COVID pandemic.”
15“Don’t forget about getting your flu shot amid the COVID pandemic.”