Peak flu season is approaching as the coronavirus pandemic continues, and families across the country are on the lookout for fevers, congestion and other symptoms.
As you’re scheduling a flu shot, you might be wondering – can I get vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19 at the same time?
Health officials, doctors and other medical providers are letting Americans know that you can safely get your flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.
“The great news is yes, you can get both vaccines at the same time or in close proximity to each other. Whatever works best for you,” Dr. Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention for the Johns Hopkins Health System, told USA TODAY.
Here’s what you need to know if you’re looking to get your COVID-19 vaccine and a flu shot at the same time.
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Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu shot at the same time?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you or others seeking the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine can get them during the same visit to your doctor’s office or pharmacy. That applies whether you’re getting your first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, your second dose, or a booster shot.
Maragakis explained that, when the COVID-19 vaccine was first distributed, officials recommended that the shot be “separated from other vaccines by two weeks.”
“But that has since been revised, and now we know that you can get that vaccine safely along with other vaccines,” she said.
Dr. Priya Sampathkumar, head of infection prevention and control at the Mayo Clinic, told USA TODAY that “as we’ve given millions of doses in the U.S., we now know what sort of things to expect from the COVID vaccines.”
“So that’s why they’ve changed the recommendation now to say you can get other vaccines at the same time as the COVID vaccine,” she said.
Maragakis noted that children often have multiple vaccines administered at the same time at the doctor’s office.
“What we know is that those vaccines, each of them, are really designed to stimulate the immune system and get an immune response to the substances that are included in the vaccines that help the body fight off the individual infectious diseases,” she said.
“The immune system gets revved up and the two, or three, however many vaccines you get on that same day, substances will kind of work along separate pathways to teach the immune system how to fight out that pathogen,” Maragakis added.
Will the side effects be worse if I get a COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot at the same time?
It depends on the person. Some people experience side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot.
But Sampathkumar explained that, if you do experience side effects like achiness or fatigue from the shot, “getting that over with at the same time would make more sense.”
“Personally, I got mine at the same time just recently, my booster and my flu shot,” she said. “You have to pick between having those symptoms for two potentially 48hour periods or at the same time.”
“As we know, they’re really manageable for most people,” she added.
According to the CDC, “possible side effects are generally similar whether vaccines are given alone or with other vaccines.”
Sampathkumar advised that people shouldn’t let potential side effects sway them from getting both shots at the same time.
“It’s easy to forget one or the other if you decide to space them apart,” she said. “That’s why when you go in for one, if the other one is available there, we recommend that you get it at the same time. With the best of intentions, you may plan to go back at another time, but life gets in the way.”
Do I need to get a flu shot?
Experts say it’s especially important to get a flu shot this year.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen this coming flu season, and I like to say we’re hoping for the best, but we’re planning for the worst,” Maragakis said.
The U.S. saw a lighter flu season last year, but Sampathkumar attributed that in part to people taking steps to prevent COVID-19 infections, such as avoiding large gatherings, frequently washing their hands and wearing face masks.
“This year, as COVID cases start to decline, we’re afraid that flu might have more of an impact as people drop their guard about masking and not gathering in large numbers,” she said.
Maragakis added that “we often see more severe flu seasons that follow light seasons, and we think it’s probably because our immunity sort of wanes in a year when we aren’t exposed to the flu very much.”
Countries in the southern hemisphere largely saw a light flu season this year, but that may not guarantee that the U.S. and other countries in the northern hemisphere see the same pattern.
Regardless, health officials urge all who are eligible to get their flu shot and get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible. The CDC recommends annual flu shots for everyone over 6 months of age, with rare exceptions.