Now is the time for Americans to get their flu shot — that’s according to health officials who are reminding people to add one more inoculation to their list, next to the COVID-19 vaccine if eligible. It’s part of an effort to help prevent hospitals from being even more overwhelmed by the hypercontagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
This also comes as a new British study found that it’s safe to administer the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time. U.S. guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also advises that it’s safe for other vaccines to be administered at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, says “it’s definitely possible” that we may see a double whammy of the flu season in addition to COVID-19. Here are some things to know about the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Wen.
(Some responses have been edited for clarity.)
Yahoo News: Why is it important to get the flu shot this year?
Wen: We know that in general, there is a spike in influenza cases every year. We missed that last year, and that’s because people were practicing fairly strict physical distancing and masking. Now, a lot of people have let down their guard. A lot more kids are back in class. People are back at work. Also because we didn’t have much of a flu season last year, there are a lot of people who may not have much immunity to influenza. And so this is why it’s so important for everyone to get the flu vaccine, and also to get the COVID vaccine. They are two different viruses. But thankfully, there are vaccines developed for both of these. It’s really important to protect against both influenza as well as COVID-19.
Who should get the flu shot ― and when?
Everyone who is eligible to get the flu shot should do so. And that’s all children over the age of 6 months. Everybody should be getting the flu shot. Now is the best time to get the flu shot, in September/October. And that’s because ideally, you want to get the flu shot prior to the onset of flu season.
Can you get a flu shot and a COVID vaccine or booster at the same time?
Yes, you can get the flu vaccine at the same time that you’re getting the COVID vaccine or a COVID booster. Some people may be confused about this because of the guidance last year. When the COVID vaccines were first developed or they first came out, we didn’t know whether they could be given at the same time as other vaccines. And so the guidance then was to space out the COVID vaccine and all the other vaccines by about two weeks. Well, that’s no longer the guidance that is required. Now, you can go for one appointment. If it’s convenient for you, you could get the COVID booster in one arm and the flu vaccine in the other arm. There’s no reason to space it out.
Will the side effects be twice as bad if you get the flu shot at the same time as a COVID vaccine dose?
The side effects really depend on the individual. There are a lot of people who get the flu vaccine every year who have no side effects whatsoever. There are a lot of people who get the COVID vaccine and really don’t have any side effects, versus there are some people who may have more severe side effects. Maybe they get fevers, and aches, and chills to both the flu vaccine and the COVID vaccine. If you are such an individual and are very stressed about the possibility of having a potentially even worse side effect than usual, you could still choose yourself to space out the vaccines. But there’s no reason why that should be a recommendation for everyone.
How effective is the flu vaccine?
The effectiveness of the flu vaccine depends every year. And that’s because there are many strains of influenza, and the developers of the vaccines every year try to predict “what are these strains that are going to be there?” And they try to match the vaccines to what could be the circulating strains of the flu. They may not always get it right. But here’s the other way to think about it: Even if the flu vaccine is only 50 percent or 60 percent effective, it still prevents you 50 or 60 percent from getting the flu. And it also prevents you from getting severe consequences. You could have gotten very ill, but now if you get the vaccine, it could keep you out of the hospital. Those are all very compelling reasons to get the flu vaccine.
Remember, one of the most common misconceptions is people think that the vaccine will somehow give them the virus. That’s not true. The flu vaccine, just like the COVID vaccine, does not contain live virus. So, you’re not going to get the flu or COVID from getting the vaccine. In fact, it’s the opposite; it prevents you from getting ill