A COVID-19 continues to spread through our communities, Duke Health experts are warning of a dual threat to Americans as flu season begins. This fall presents a challenge because of the overlap between the two viruses. For this reason, it’s extremely important that you get a flu vaccine this year to protect yourself.
According to Cameron Wolfe, MBBS, an infectious diseases specialist with Duke Health, seasonal flu is like most viruses in that it changes subtly every year. “Last year’s vaccine may have created antibodies that could help you this year, but the virus still changes every year,” Wolfe said. “That’s why the flu vaccine changes every year to keep up as best it can with a changing flu strain.”
Unfortunately, several myths about the flu vaccine continue to persist, which discourage some people from getting it every year. Here, Dr. Wolfe sets the record straight about the flu vaccine and COVID-19.
Can a flu vaccine give me the flu?
It can’t because there’s no living viral parts to the injection. Most people don’t experience any illness. If you feel off, it means your immune system is responding to the vaccine. That feeling usually goes away within 24 hours. A small percent of people may experience a sore shoulder or mild muscle aches near the spot where they received their vaccination.
Does timing matter for getting a flu vaccine?
It’s important to get an immunization before the flu season picks up in early fall. It takes 10 to 14 days for antibodies to develop and protect you, so getting a vaccine in September is best. If you get a vaccine in January, when the flu season is peaking, and you come into contact right away with someone who has influenza, your body has not had enough time to mount a sufficient response. You should get vaccinated against the flu as early as possible.
Do we know if this year’s flu vaccine will be effective? What if I still get the seasonal flu?
Scientists and public health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and organizations around the country work months ahead of each flu season to predict as best they can what needs to go into a flu vaccine to protect you. However, the match may not be perfect. When that’s happened in the past, data shows a vaccine still stimulates antibodies that protect you. You could end up with a much milder version of the flu and recover quicker. Even a partially effective vaccine means you’re less likely to be sick and pass an illness to other people.
Is it better to get sick with flu than to get a flu vaccine?
Your body will make the antibodies against a seasonal flu if you get it, but there’s a chance you may be the rare person who gets a very severe case of the flu. There’s no chance you’ll get severe flu from a vaccine. That’s especially important to consider as we get older.
It’s also important to consider that if you were to contract influenza, you could impact your friends, family, or coworkers. Think about it this way: What’s the best way to protect you and the people around you? It's to get vaccinated.
Seasonal Flu and COVID-19
Is it Safe to Receive Doses of the Flu and COVID-19 Vaccines?
Yes -- the Centers for Disease Control say it is safe to receive both vaccines. You can even get them on the same day if you haven’t yet been vaccinated against COVID-19. Receiving both does not change the effectiveness of either vaccine or cause more side effects. Both vaccines can be given during the same appointment.
What’s the difference between seasonal flu and COVID-19?
Symptoms of season flu and COVID-19 can often be very similar. COVID tends to last longer and has a greater potential to be more severe. Getting a flu vaccine helps us reduce the likelihood of flu as the reason if you are sick.
Does a flu vaccination increase your risk of getting COVID-19?
No. The danger is that getting the two viruses can make each one worse and put a strain on our health care resources. You wouldn’t want to go through COVID isolation and testing, only to find out that you have a case of influenza that could have been prevented. That is why you should get the flu vaccine.