As flu season sets in, there are a lot of questions surrounding how the flu shot may interact with the COVID-19 vaccine. Though last year saw record-low numbers of flu cases, this year experts believe that it will return and could be severe, mostly due to people returning to normal activities such as work and school. “COVID-19 has been a reminder of the vital importance of lung health. I encourage all Americans, and especially adults with chronic health conditions, to get their flu shot this year and every year.” said American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer Albert Rizzo, M.D. He and Dr. Juanita Mora helped us answer some of the most pressing questions about getting the COVID-19 and flu vaccines.
Q: Do I need the flu shot if I have had the COVID-19 vaccine? Will the shots interfere with each other?
The flu and COVID-19 are different diseases so you need both vaccines to be protected from each one. A flu shot provides a specific ‘key’ that unlocks a strengthened immune response to protect against influenza. And a COVID-19 vaccine provides a different ‘key’ that also unlocks a strengthened immune response to protect against COVID-19. There is no master key that works for all viruses, so getting vaccinated against both infectious diseases will help keep you healthy. Getting the flu shot will not counteract the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Q: Can the flu vaccine reduce the risk and severity of COVID-19?
We are still learning, but according to a recent study published but The American Journal of Infection Control, patients who received a flu shot were found to have 24% lower odds of testing positive for COVID-19. According to that same study getting the flu vaccine can make your innate immune system more robust- making it stronger to fight COVID-19. This in turn may decrease hospitalizations, emergency department visits and more severe COVID-19 complications such as respiratory failure. In children less than 12 years of age where we don't have an approved COVID-19 vaccine yet, so it is recommended now more than ever that the flu vaccine is prioritized for them this year.
Q: Can I get the flu and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time?
Not only is it safe to get both vaccines, but getting them at the same time could save you time and money. When you get vaccinated at your healthcare provider’s office, local pharmacy, or other clinic for both, you can take less time off work, from school or away from daily activities.
Some people may be concerned about the possible side effects caused by each virus. According to the CDC, history shows that getting multiple shots at the same time should not cause worse side effects. But this does not mean that you will not experience any side effects. For instance, you may experience a fever, headache, body aches and other flu-like symptoms. In addition, soreness at the injection site is common for both vaccines, so it may be wise to get one shot in each arm.
“The only individuals I would be concerned about getting both vaccines the same day would be those with history of anaphylaxis or severe allergic reaction to injectable drugs,” Dr. Mora commented. In these cases, consult your allergist and separate vaccines by at least 48 hours.
Q: What about the booster shot? Does it differ from the initial COVID-19 vaccine and is it safe to get with the flu vaccine?
Recently, the FDA approved a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for people with immune compromising health conditions and for people ages 65 and older. But receiving this third dose should not prevent these groups from getting the flu shot. In fact, these groups are also at high-risk for severe flu complications, so it is important for them to consider getting the flu shot and the third dose of their original COVID vaccine.
“Based on studies, current vaccines wean in protection after six months which is why CDC has recommended a booster vaccine six months after the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine and Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines might soon be approved.” Dr. Mora explained. “Amidst the delta variant - it is very important if you qualify to get your booster as well as your flu shot.”
Q: Who should get the flu shot?
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu shot every year. This is because the circulating strains change and your body’s immune protection declines over time. This is especially important for people at high-risk for developing serious complications from influenza including older adults, young children, pregnant women and individuals with chronic medical conditions including lung diseases such as asthma or COPD.
Q: Should children get the flu shot? Should they get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a decline in pediatric visits and pediatric vaccinations. This has left children vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases, including the flu. Talk to your healthcare provider about keeping or bringing your children up to date with their vaccinations.
Q: When is the best time to get the flu shot?
In general, it takes about two weeks after getting vaccinated for your body to develop the antibodies to provide protection against the flu. That is why you should get vaccinated before the virus spreads in your community. In the U.S., it is generally recommended that you receive your flu shot before the end of October.
Disclaimer: The information in this article was medically reviewed and accurate at the time of posting. Because knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 is constantly evolving, data or insights may have changed. The most recent posts are listed on the EACH Breath blog landing page. You may also visit our COVID-19 section for updated disease information and contact our Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA for COVID-19 questions.
Blog last updated: October 5, 2021