As if the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t enough, we also have flu season—and getting your flu shot—on the horizon. This year’s flu season, like last year’s, will probably be a little different than those in the past. But you still need to get your flu vaccine.
The flu may seem like a relatively minor illness, and for most healthy adults it is, but in some cases it can be serious, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain. And even if it’s not severe for you, once you have the flu, you can pass it along to other more vulnerable people and put them at risk for serious complications.
Getting the flu vaccine also means you’re less likely to be in the position of having COVID-like flu symptoms (such as fever, fatigue, and a sore throat) and, therefore, less likely to need to get tested, Adam Ratner, M.D., director of pediatric infectious diseases at NYU Langone’s Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital, tells SELF.
So, of course, there’s the obvious benefit of getting the vaccine—that you’re reducing your personal risk for the flu—and there are the altruistic benefits of protecting those around you as well as reserving much-needed hospital beds for those with COVID-19. (An especially important consideration amid the current delta-variant-fueled surge, which has overwhelmed ICUs in several states.) But thanks to the pandemic, you may have to take some extra steps to get your flu vaccine this year. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Who should get a flu vaccine?
Everyone who’s six months and older should get the flu vaccine, the CDC says, except in a few rare cases (such as an allergy to an ingredient in the vaccine). It’s important that everyone who can get the vaccine—which comes in both shot and nasal spray forms this year—actually gets it, but it’s especially important for those who are at a higher risk for developing more severe consequences of the flu, including those with asthma, heart disease, or diabetes as well as older adults and pregnant people.
2. When should I get my flu vaccine?
The ideal time to get the vaccine is, of course, before the flu season hits, James D. Cherry, M.D., MSc, distinguished research professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, tells SELF.
Really, you should get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available to you, Waleed Javaid, M.D., director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown, tells SELF. He agrees with the CDC’s recommendation to get the vaccine in early fall, around September or early October ideally, and definitely by the end of October.
You can still get a flu shot if you miss that window, but it’s best to just get it done early so you can be sure you’re vaccinated before the flu season hits.
3. Can I get my COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine at the same time?
Yes, you absolutely can, Dr. Javaid says. Last year, the CDC recommended waiting 14 days between getting a COVID-19 shot and getting a flu vaccine out of an abundance of caution. But this year, there’s enough data about the COVID-19 vaccines that, coupled with our understanding about giving other vaccines together, health experts (including the CDC) say it’s okay to get both at the same time.
“But what are you waiting for? You should get the COVID shot ASAP, like yesterday,” Dr. Javaid says. “Don’t wait for your flu shot to get your COVID-19 shot.”
If you’re immunocompromised, you should get your flu vaccine as soon as possible. And, because you might be eligible for a third COVID-19 vaccine shot, you should talk with your health care provider about how best to time them, Dr. Javaid explains.
4. Where can my kids get their flu vaccine this year?
Despite the fact that both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that children continue their usual vaccine schedule during the pandemic, the CDC saw a drop in routine vaccinations (for illnesses like measles) when stay-at-home-orders were in effect last year.
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