Article originally published January 16, 2020.
Updated August 2021.
With the flu season arriving as COVID-19 cases surge, it is more important than ever for everyone older than 6 months of age to get a flu shot to help protect themselves and their loved ones. Influenza (flu) is a respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illnesses and, in some cases, even death. People with the flu often complain of a fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches, and/or fatigue. Some may have vomiting and diarrhea, although this is more common in children than adults.
How is flu spread?
Flu is spread by tiny droplets made when people cough, sneeze or talk. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. A person might also get flu by touching a surface that has the virus on it, and then touching their own mouth or nose. That’s why it’s important to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing to protect everyone around you.
Do I need to be vaccinated?
Much like social distancing, mask-wearing and handwashing, getting a flu shot is another measure you can take to protect yourself and vulnerable loved ones. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine (for everyone 6 months and older) – this is the most important step in preventing the flu. The vaccine protects against multiple influenza viruses. There are many different influenza viruses, so it is still possible to become infected with influenza after getting the vaccine. However, your illness may be less severe.
If you are unsure whether the flu vaccine is right for you, talk with your healthcare provider about your concerns.
Can I get my flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time?
Yes. According to the CDC, it is safe to receive both the COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine in the same visit, and it is no longer necessary to wait 14 days between vaccinations. Learn more about this updated guidance here.
Is the flu different from COVID-19?
Yes. Flu is caused by an infection with influenza viruses and COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infection. While the viruses are not related, both COVID-19 and the flu are contagious respiratory illnesses that may result in hospitalization.
The goal of vaccination against both infections is to decrease the likelihood of severe disease and death, reducing the strain on our healthcare system so our frontline heroes can continue providing care for other conditions and illnesses.
Are flu vaccines safe?
Yes, flu vaccines are safe. You can receive a flu vaccine in one of two ways: an injection or a nasal spray. The flu vaccine does not contain a live virus, and it doesn’t give you the flu. You might develop some mild symptoms – like muscle aches, low-grade fever, a headache, or nausea – caused by your body’s immune response. You may even experience soreness at the injection site.
Keep in mind that it does take about two weeks to be protected after getting a flu shot while antibodies fully develop. Flu vaccines are not experimental and protect only against specific strains of influenza – not COVID-19 or other viruses.
It is especially important that those at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications get vaccinated, including:
- Children and infants.
- Adults age 65 and older (should consider the high dose flu vaccine).
- Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum). When a pregnant woman gets a flu shot, it can help protect her baby for the first six months of life.
- Adults with a serious or chronic health condition, such as heart disease, lung disease, asthma, kidney disease, cancer or diabetes.
If you are considered higher risk, talk with your healthcare provider about receiving a flu vaccination and which dose is suitable for you.
How can I protect myself from the flu?
You may have noticed that the number of flu cases dropped in 2020: That’s because many of the preventive measures used to protect us from COVID-19 also reduce the spread of other viral illnesses. Here are a few steps you can take to stop the spread of the flu:
- Get your flu shot, and encourage your friends to get one as well.
- Wash and sanitize your hands often using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water.
- Use the paper towel to turn the water off and open the door in public restrooms.
- Wipe off the cart handle when shopping.
- If you are sick, stay home.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unclean hands.
- Avoid large gatherings, especially in poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
- Wear a mask to decrease the chances of spreading germs when you talk, laugh, cough or sneeze.
Click here to learn more about steps you can take to stop the spread of influenza and COVID-19.
Primary Care Offices
Primary care is at the heart of wellness. It is often viewed as the building block of a healthy life and focuses first and foremost on the prevention of disease. No matter your age, you should plan to see your primary care provider once a year for a routine wellness exam.
If you have questions about the flu vaccine, contact your primary care provider to discuss which option is best for you.
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