And just like that, we are heading into another flu season complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, except this time we have more tools under our belt.
Coronavirus vaccines have been widely available since April, and now, COVID-19 boosters are expected to roll out for all Americans beginning the week of Sept. 20, pending recommendations and authorizations from federal health officials.
While it’s difficult to predict how the flu season will fare this year, experts say it may be worse and begin earlier than in 2020, partly because influenza viruses were virtually nonexistent thanks to coronavirus preventive measures that kept other respiratory viruses at bay.
Flu shots are still recommended for everyone 6 months and older, with some exceptions, as well as COVID-19 vaccines for those aged 16 and older.
You may be wondering what the best steps are to dodge the flu and COVID-19. So, here are answers to some of your questions.
Can you get the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time?
Yes. It is safe to get your flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time; plus, it’s more convenient.
But you should hold off on getting either jab if you are infected with either illness, particularly the coronavirus.
Medically speaking, it’s safe to get a flu shot if you are sick with COVID-19, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends waiting until your symptoms are gone (if you develop any) or until you have met the criteria to stop isolating from others.
Most importantly, you don’t want to infect health care workers or other patients.
Can you get the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine booster at the same time?
It’s unclear when or if federal health officials will officially recommend and authorize coronavirus booster shots in time for President Joe Biden’s September timeline, but it’s likely you will eventually be able to get a flu shot and COVID-19 booster at the same time.
“There is no real bar out there. My own personal advice would be to separate the two by a week, but you don’t have to if it’s more convenient,” Dr. David Weber, member of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America and epidemiology professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, told McClatchy News.
The week-long gap would give your body time to recover from possible side effects caused by either vaccine, Weber explained. You wouldn’t want to experience double the side effects if you don’t have to.
And side effects experienced for one vaccine do not predict those felt for another, Weber added. So, you may be bedridden after your second dose of the coronavirus vaccine but then take your flu shot like champ.
If you had to choose which one to get first, Weber strongly suggests the COVID-19 booster, “given the rapid spread of the delta variant and lack of [circulating] flu” at this time.
When is the best time to get a flu shot as the delta variant spreads?
The CDC says September and October are “generally good times” to get your flu shot, but definitely by the end of October. That’s because it takes about two weeks for your body to develop enough antibodies against the influenza viruses spreading during the season.
Any time before then increases the chances your immunity wanes over time. Flu season typically runs from October to May.
“You don’t want to wait till you hear there’s a lot of flu in your community to go get your vaccine,” Weber said, especially if the coronavirus is running rampant, too. “The last thing you want to do is get COVID-19 and another viral respiratory disease at the same time.”
Children should follow a different flu shot timeline because some need two doses separated by four weeks, the CDC says. Earlier flu vaccination can also be considered for people in their third trimester of pregnancy to help protect infants in their first months of life.
Can you get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time? How can you tell the difference?
Yes, you can get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, but if you’re confused about which illness you may have, it’s best to take a test, the CDC says.
The symptoms for both are similar, including fever, cough, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, loss of taste or smell, runny nose and sore throat.
Generally, COVID-19 appears to spread more easily than the flu because it causes more serious illness, and coronavirus symptoms typically take longer to show, meaning some people may be unknowingly spreading the virus to others.
People sick with the flu can experience symptoms anywhere from one to four days after infection, whereas people with COVID-19 typically come down with symptoms about five days after infection, but the timing can range between two to 14 days.
Can your flu shot protect you from COVID-19, and vice versa?
The flu shot is not designed to protect against COVID-19, and the COVID-19 vaccine is not meant to lessen your chances of catching the flu.
The flu is caused by one of the many influenza viruses spreading during a given year, while COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus).
One study, however, found that people who received a flu vaccine up to six months before getting infected with the coronavirus were less likely to have a stroke, experience sepsis or develop blood clots caused by COVID-19.
Coronavirus patients vaccinated against influenza were also less likely to visit the emergency department and be admitted to the intensive care unit.
Health experts say the best way to protect yourself from either illness is to get the vaccine for that illness.