IS IT SAFE TO GET YOUR ANNUAL FLU SHOT DURING THE PANDEMIC?
By Amie Durenberger
As autumn creeps in, so does the impending flu season. Every year as the weather turns colder, healthcare professionals recommend getting your annual vaccine to ward off the dreaded flu.
But what does that recommendation mean in 2020? The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we visit our doctors, prepare for the school year, and protect our health. Is the flu vaccine still something we need this year?
The simple answer is: yes. In this post, we’ll discuss how the flu vaccine connects to COVID-19 and examine what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends in light of the pandemic.
SHOULD I GET A FLU VACCINE THIS YEAR?
According to the CDC, getting a flu shot this year may be “more important than ever.” The flu vaccine won’t protect you from COVID-19, but it could still reduce your hospitalization risk. Between 140,000–810,000 people are hospitalized due to influenza every year.
A flu shot can reduce your chances of flu illness by 40–60%. And flu vaccines are designed to fight three to four different types of the flu with one shot. Even if you catch an unexpected variation of the virus, the antibodies created by the vaccine can still provide protection and reduce the severity of your symptoms.
With many hospitals and healthcare systems already battling COVID-19, flu season could make space and resources even less available. The flu shot won’t end the pandemic, but it could help support our healthcare system.
WILL THE FLU VACCINE INCREASE MY CHANCES OF CATCHING COVID-19?
Currently, there is no evidence that the flu vaccine will increase your risk for catching any form of a coronavirus, including COVID-19.
One Canadian study examined years of data to find that the flu vaccine did not increase the risk of contracting a coronavirus or any other non-flu respiratory virus.
It’s safe to get your flu shot each and every year. A long-term study found the flu vaccine to boost protective antibodies for five years running. They concluded that the annual flu shot is good for the health of your immune system.
CAN I HAVE THE FLU AND COVID-19 AT THE SAME TIME?
Yes—it is possible to have both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. However, since COVID-19 is a novel virus, we don’t know how common this occurrence is yet.
The flu and COVID-19 can also produce very similar symptoms, so it may be difficult to tell which virus you have contracted, if not both. The only way to be sure is to get tested.
HOW TO GET YOUR FLU VACCINE DURING THE PANDEMIC
During the pandemic, the CDC is aiming to make flu vaccinations more accessible. This season, there will be about 20 million more doses of the flu vaccine available to the public. A variety of locations will offer flu shots, including clinics, drive-through services, and even in-home visits.
Several large pharmacies, such as CVS and Walgreens, also offer vaccinations. If you want more information on where you can get your flu shot, use the online flu vaccine finder.
THREE TIPS FOR FLU SHOTS DURING COVID-19
1. TIME IT OUT
Aim to get your vaccine at the beginning of fall—before the flu season gets into full swing. September and October are great months to get your shots, but you may be able to receive one as late as January.
2. KEEP YOURSELF AND OTHERS SAFE
When going to get your flu shot, take the same precautions you would for running any essential errand. Wear a mask, practice social distancing measures, and avoid touching your face.
If you have COVID-19 (or think you do), be sure to postpone your flu shot until you are sure you are no longer contagious (14 days after a negative COVID test). COVID-19 is currently suspected to be more deadly than the flu, so prioritize the health of yourself and others before getting your flu vaccine.
Anyone under the age of six months is too young to receive the flu vaccine. And individuals with Guillain-Barré Syndrome or severe allergies to possible vaccine ingredients (gelatin, antibiotics, or eggs) should consult their physician to ensure vaccination is a safe choice.
PREPARING FOR FLU SEASON DURING A PANDEMIC: CONCLUSION
Life during a pandemic is stressful. And adding another item to your to-do list (like scheduling a flu shot) can feel overwhelming.
Thankfully, the CDC has prepared for this flu season by increasing the number of vaccines available, setting guidelines for vaccination during a pandemic, and supporting unconventional vaccination methods like drive-through clinics.
These guidelines help make getting your flu shot safe. The CDC recommends the flu vaccine due to its overall benefits, even as we all continue to take precautions against COVID-19.
So go ahead – get your flu shot this Fall to protect yourself (and your loved ones near you) against flu season. At best, it will help protect you from contracting the flu. At the very least, if you do get a different flu virus that wasn’t covered by this years’ vaccine, your symptoms will still be less severe, and your recovery time will be shortened.4,5.
Amie Durenberger is a professional naturalist and science journalist located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her writing has appeared in the Teaching Artists Journal and The Department of Natural Resources’ Minnesota Conservation Volunteer.
Since 2013, she has worked as an environmental educator, teaching children and adults about biodiversity, conservation, and edible and medicinal plant uses. She is passionate about providing the public with knowledge and resources in which they can use to promote personal health and develop a stronger connection to the land. She also recognizes that many herbal remedies originated in indigenous tribes and aims to always use healing plants in a way that respects and honors those original people. Amie’s favorite herbal preparations include fresh nettle tea, homemade plantain salve, and wild sumac lemonade.