Should I get a flu shot during the COVID-19 pandemic?

With so many urgent headlines about the COVID epidemic, the 2020-2021 flu season can easily get lost in the shuffle. But make no mistake about it, getting your flu shot this year is just as important as ever. Maybe even more so. Let’s talk about why.

  • COVID and the flu are not the same thing. They are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by completely different viruses. Because the symptoms of the flu and COVID are similar on some points, it can be difficult to tell them apart. See this table from the Centers for Disease Control for a chart comparing symptoms, based on the best available information to date.
  • COVID does not cancel out flu. Public health experts expect that the flu season will continue unabated alongside the COVID epidemic. This has the potential to strain our health care systems even more and increase death tolls, too.
  • It’s possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, creating a very complex treatment scenario for those unfortunate patients.
  • Everyone is vulnerable to the flu. Flu strains develop and mutate every year. That means the shot you got last year, will not protect you this year. You must get a flu shot to protect yourself from the flu strains now circulating, and time that shot so that you get the best protection during the winter months—peak flu symptoms. 

What flu vaccines are recommended this Season?

Influenza vaccines produced in the United States all address the same types of influenza. Most of the vaccines are quadrivalent protect against four types of influenza; two types of influenza A and two types of influenza B. The science behind the development of those vaccines differs with some grown in chicken eggs, some grown using other types of cells, and some developed use completely new technologies. The CDC does not have any preferential recommendation regarding which vaccine a person should receive.  They suggest any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine with no preference for any one vaccine over another.

Vaccine options this season include:

When should I get my flu shot?

It is important to remember that the timing of when you get your flu shot is important, more so now than ever. Because of the pandemic, we are getting a lot of questions from patients who are asking if they should get their flu shot early, perhaps in July or August. The CDC recommends making vaccination available as soon as vaccine supplies are received with the intention avoid a missed opportunity for vaccination. We know that influenza rates are usually highest in the months of December, January and February. For that reason, we focus our vaccination efforts beginning in September and continuing throughout the winter and into the spring, ending when vaccine is no longer available. Never think it is too late to be vaccinated.

Talk to your primary care provider about getting a flu shot or consult your local immediate care center for information on where flu shots are being administered near you.

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About Ruth Carrico, Ph.D.

Dr. Ruth Carrico is an infectious disease specialist with UofL Physicians – Vaccine & International Travel Center and the 550 Clinic. Her specialty is infection disease, and her areas of interest include infection prevention and control, immunization, international health and travel, vaccine research, refugee health and global health. She has a bachelor’s degree from Norton Memorial Infirmary School of Nursing and Bellarmine University School of Nursing. She received her master’s degree from Webster University, her master’s degree in nursing with a concentration as a family nurse practitioner from Northern Kentucky University and her Ph.D. from California Coast University. She is a member of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, Kentucky Nurses Association and the American Nurses Association.

All posts by Ruth Carrico, Ph.D.