- CDC officials have updated previous guidelines to encourage Americans to sign up for a flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine — regardless of a 2-week window — this fall.
- Director Rochelle Walensky says experts aren’t expecting any “unusual or unexpected” safety issues with receiving both a flu shot and additional COVID-19 vaccines in the same doctor’s visit.
- If you know you are likely to experience side effects from the annual flu shot, like a sore arm or a brief fever, spacing your two shots out may keep you more comfortable.
Americans may be wondering about flu shots as the future of how additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be administered to millions of people. While officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decide when more than just immunocompromised people can receive another immunity-boosting dose, there’s more than a good chance that flu shot season overlaps with your timeline for another COVID-19 vaccine.
FDA officials previously determined that anyone who received a two-dose mRNA vaccine should seek another dose around eight months after their final booster dose; for many, that will fall in November, December, and January, the peak of flu season here in the United States. On Friday, September 17, the FDA group known as the Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted to move forward on this timeline for those over the age of 65.
Those in that age group wishing to plan a timeline for a third COVID-19 vaccine — or, if you’re hoping to begin the vaccination process now that the Pfizer shot has full FDA approval — you may be wondering if there’s a way to work in your seasonal flu vaccine. Officers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have planned to encourage Americans to indeed seek both, as they’re both essential to lower health risks this winter (in fact, burgeoning news reports indicate teams at Moderna are working on a joint flu-and-covid shot).
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., MPH, previously told Good Housekeeping that it’s best to receive a flu shot by the end of October, as it takes at least two weeks for flu antibodies to build up within your immune system. Since many are acutely aware of the side effects associated with COVID-19 vaccines, they may be wary of getting a flu shot before getting another vaccine dose, or vice versa. But Dr. Walensky and other top federal health officials have indicated that this shouldn’t be a concern — here’s why.
Is it safe to get a COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot at the same time?
The short answer? Yes! You may be confused if you’ve heard advice against this tactic, though, as previously CDC officials recommended waiting at least two weeks between a COVID-19 vaccine and any other shot. After having almost a full year to monitor these new vaccines, the agency has updated its instructions to reflect the current understanding of vaccination in general, as immune responses are usually unaffected by receiving more than one vaccine at a time. “You can get a COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines in the same visit,” Dr. Walensky says. “CDC’s recommendation has been updated so that you no longer need to wait 14 days between getting your COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccinations.”
Currently, CDC officers are working to further educate professionals from physicians to pharmacists on administering the flu shot alongside other vaccines. “Based on our prior experience and knowledge of immunology, we do not anticipate any unusual or unexpected safety problems with receiving COVID-19 vaccines and flu vaccines at the same time,” she adds.
Could getting the flu and COVID-19 vaccines together impact potential side effects?
The flu shot isn’t expected to make any potential side effects associated with COVID-19 vaccines — particularly arm tenderness or chills, fatigue, or fever — worse than it would be if you had got them separately. Dr. Walenksy indicates that an immune system often responds to multiple vaccines with the same potential side effects that have already been well documented; getting vaccinated against the seasonal flu and COVID-19 won’t create new side effects altogether.
It’s true that there is a lack of robust research on administering COVID-19 vaccines alongside other vaccines, given how new they are to the scientific community. But doctors in the field aren’t worried that a combination of the two vaccines will heighten any side effects — the biggest concern, at best, could be two sore arms, says William Schaffner, M.D., the medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
“I personally wouldn’t want two sore arms at the same time — and so if you would wait at least a week between the two, you won’t [face the possibility of] simultaneous adverse events,” he tells us.
If you’re someone who has a well-documented history of experiencing side effects after a flu shot — such as a sore arm, or a bit of a fever on the day of — you may wish to space the two out for your own personal comfort. All side effects are temporary, but the likelihood of you experiencing a potential side effect (and how mild or severe it may be) may be influenced if you decide to get both shots at the same time, Dr. Schaffner explains.
Do I really need a flu shot?
While the flu posed less of a threat to Americans during the socially distanced winter earlier this year, there’s mounting evidence that influenza may pose more of a threat now than ever. “We know that antibodies that protect against flu wane over time; this means there may be many people, both children and adults, who have less immunity against flu this season than during previous seasons because they weren’t exposed to flu last year,” Dr. Walensky warns.
It’s crucial to ensure that you receive both vaccines, as they’re equally important — do not prioritize one over the other, especially if you are older than 65. “Everyone six months and older should get their flu vaccine each season,” she says, adding that those at higher risk for severe flu complications should start planning their vaccine timeline now. “This includes adults 65 years and older, people with certain chronic health conditions — asthma, diabetes, and heart disease — pregnant people, and children younger than 5 years old.”
This article is meant to be educational in nature and isn’t a substitute for actual medical or treatment advice from a licensed professional. Please consult your primary health care provider to determine which vaccinations and vaccine schedules are best for you.
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