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Can I get vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19 at the same time? Answers to this and 10 other flu-related questions

Can I get the flu shot if I recently received a COVID-19 vaccine dose, or do I have to wait for a few weeks in between? 

Yes, you can get both at same time. There is only a delay for children where the usual delay is in place for surveillance purposes. Adults do not have to wait between getting the flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine.

Do I still need to get the flu shot, given there was not much influenza circulating last year? 

Yes. There is flu circulating already and we are expecting more influenza this season compared to last year due to increased travel, loosening of public health measures, and some increased susceptibility in the population. There have been outbreaks already in Michigan, so do not delay getting protected.

Can I get the flu from the flu shot? I got sick after my shot last year.

No, you can’t, because the flu shot contains dead virus. If you did get sick after getting the flu shot, there are a number of possible explanations:

  • Maybe you had another virus (e.g., common cold) and this was not flu;
  • You were in contact with the flu before vaccination (it takes 2 weeks to develop full immunity); or
  • Because the flu shot doesn’t provide 100 per cent immunity, you can still get the flu if you get the flu shot, but your disease may be less severe than if you hadn’t received the vaccine. But the shot doesn’t give you the flu.

If the flu shot doesn’t guarantee 100 per cent immunity from the flu, why should I bother getting it?  

If you get the flu shot, your risk of getting the flu is on average 70 per cent lower but varies year by year. Even if the flu shot does not prevent all flu infections, it does reduce risk of severe disease (e.g. hospitalization, death).

Remember that even though influenza is generally less severe than COVID-19, on a typical season it is capable of causing thousands of hospitalizations and deaths – which can be prevented with the flu shot.  The more people get vaccinated, the better we protect our community and reduce the burden on our healthcare system that is already under strain from the pandemic.

The flu doesn’t seem that bad. Why can’t I just take my chances and not get the shot?

You’re not only getting the flu shot for yourself, it’s offering protection to those around you. While the flu may not seem like a big deal, it can have deadly consequences for many people. The flu can be a serious illness and cause hospitalizations and deaths, especially in people over 65 and young children.

What makes the flu so serious for some people?

The flu can be fatal for different reasons, including (but not limited to):

  • The flu can cause severe inflammation of vital organs, which is when the immune system attacks itself. This could lead to failure of vital organs and requires supportive treatment in the critical care unit.
  • The flu can progress into a secondary bacterial pneumonia or other respiratory conditions, which could then become fatal.
  • A person could have other medical conditions that can become unmanaged or more complicated when sick with the flu, such as exacerbation of lung disease, heart failure, kidney failure, or delirium. There is also evidence that flu can increase your risk of a heart attack, especially within the week after the infection.

Is my immunity lowered after the flu shot? Several years in a row, I got a cold right after the flu shot.

No, the flu shot does not lower your immune system – it boosts it.  You likely became ill with something else, but due to the timing it is common for people to think it was caused by the vaccine.

Is it safe to get the flu shot while pregnant?

Yes, pregnant women should absolutely be getting the flu shot. In fact, the flu shot is recommended for pregnant women at all stages of pregnancy, as well as those who are breastfeeding. The flu itself, not the flu shot, can harm pregnant women seriously enough to land them in hospital and cause death. The flu poses a major threat to fetuses, too.

Another reason for pregnant women to get the shot: flu vaccination causes the body to produce infection-fighting antibodies. When a pregnant woman receives a flu shot, her antibodies get passed on to the developing fetus, providing protection to the newborn in the first months of life. A baby can also acquire antibodies through a vaccinated mother’s breast milk. This is particularly important since infants can’t receive the flu shot and are at higher risk of complications if they do get the flu.

I live a healthy lifestyle (eat well, exercise, etc.) and consider myself to be a healthy person. I never get sick. Do I still need to get the flu shot?

Yes. You do. Public health agencies from around the world recommend everyone over the age of 6 months get the flu shot every year.

A flu shot not only protects you against the flu, it also helps protect your loved ones, colleagues, strangers on the street. By getting the shot, you are reducing your chance of spreading the illness. Even if you’re healthy, you should still get the flu shot.

I got the flu shot so that’s all I have to do to stop spreading the flu, right? Or can I spread the flu even if I feel well?

Your chance of spreading the flu is significantly reduced if you have been vaccinated. But whether you’re vaccinated or not, you can be a carrier of the flu even without symptoms. About 20 to 30% of people carrying the influenza virus have no symptoms at all. So, wash your hands after every contact you have with other people.

There are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself during flu season besides vaccination. Avoid contact with people who are sick, wash your hands often, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, avoid touching your face, stay home when you are sick, clean and disinfect surfaces and shared items. Wearing a mask indoors and in public spaces where physical distancing cannot be maintained will not only help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but also the flu.

Can I prevent the flu with holistic remedies (chicken soup, vitamins, infusers) instead of getting the flu shot? 

No. Hot liquids can soothe a sore throat and provide much needed fluids. But there is no evidence that chicken soup has any specific qualities that help prevent the flu. Your best protection against the flu is getting the flu shot.

About the author

Jerome Leis

Dr. Leis is Medical Director, Infection Prevention & Control and a
staff physician in infectious diseases and general internal medicine at
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.