No one yet knows what the upcoming flu season will hold, especially with states’ differing approaches to masking and social distancing.
But one thing is clear: Health guidelines continue to state that anyone ages 6 months and older should get their annual flu vaccine. And that means millions of people will get their flu shot at or around the same time they get a COVID booster dose (or, for some, their very first shot of the coronavirus vaccine).
Is that safe? Is there anything people should know about getting two vaccines at or around the same time? Here’s what we know.
Yes, you can get a flu shot and a COVID vaccine at the same time
If you’re eligible for a COVID vaccine, you can absolutely get one at the same time that you get the flu vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That’s true whether you’re getting your first or second shot of either of the mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer), or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. And it’s very likely to hold true if and when booster shots roll out as well.
“There’s no reason you cannot get both at once. They are not going to counteract each other in any way,” Karl Minges, dean of the School of Health Sciences at the University of New Haven, told HuffPost. “COVID vaccines are using a very different mechanism to vaccinate an individual than the influenza shot.”
In fact, Moderna recently announced it is working to develop a joint flu shot and COVID-19 booster, combining its existing COVID vaccine with an experimental flu vaccine.
If you get both shots at the same time, the side effects might be worse
The most common side effects of the flu vaccine include soreness or redness at the injection site, headaches, fever, nausea, muscle aches and fatigue. Those symptoms overlap a lot with the most common side effects of the COVID vaccine and booster dose.
If you get both shots at the same time (whether an initial dose of the coronavirus vaccine or a booster), they will likely be given in different arms, so you don’t have one spot that’s really red and tender.
“Everybody’s response is a little bit different, but those after-effects from any vaccine are possible, and it would seem logical that if you had both of them co-administered that you might experience a little bit more of those after-effects, although that varies a lot from person-to-person,” said Aaron Clark, a family medicine physician at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and medical director of the Ohio State Health Accountable Care Organization.
“Co-administering vaccines is a very common tactic that we do,” Clark said.
You should aim to get your flu shot in early fall
It’s not possible to plan your flu shot timing around when you might get a COVID booster yet. That’s because even though booster doses have been recommended by the Biden administration, they haven’t yet been authorized by the FDA. Still, they could start rolling out in a matter of weeks to people who are eight months out from their last dose.
In general, September and October are the ideal times to get a flu vaccine. Experts always emphasize that it’s absolutely still worth getting a shot later in the fall or winter, because flu season can peak in March and last until the spring.
“The best defense against influenza and COVID-19 is vaccination, number one,” Clark said. “And safe social distance, wearing masks, frequent hand washing, not going to school or work when you’re sick are all things we can continue to do to protect ourselves.”