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Getting the Flu Shot During a Pandemic – What You Need to Know


Things look a little different this year compared to last flu season, when Americans were locked down and adjusting to life during a pandemic. Because there were country-wide mask mandates and we social distanced to avoid sharing germs, the United States had a mild 2020 flu season. From September 2020 – May 2021, the CDC reported only .2% of tests in the United States came back positive for an influenza virus, compared to 26 – 30% during the last three flu seasons.

However, now that we’re returning to work, school, or other social settings, it’s more important than ever to protect yourself and your family this flu season by getting the influenza vaccine. As the pandemic continues, there is heightened concern that entering flu season could lead to increased strain on our healthcare providers and resources that are already burdened. Here’s what you need to know to help you make informed decisions and keep you and your loved ones healthy this season.

What is the flu?

The flu is highly contagious and spreads from infected droplets that are sent into the air by things like coughing, sneezing, or speaking. People are most infectious during the first few days of showing symptoms, but it’s possible for the flu to spread one day prior to showing symptoms and up to one week after they disappear. Children and those with weaker immune systems may even be contagious longer. Common symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuff nose, and fatigue. Children may also experience vomiting and diarrhea.

It’s important to realize the flu isn’t just a bad cold. It can lead to complications like pneumonia, worsening of chronic conditions, hospitalization, and even death. The good news? The flu can be prevented by getting a flu shot!


How do I know if I have COVID-19 or the flu?

Although the flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory diseases and have similar symptoms, they are caused by different viruses, affect people differently, and are not treated the same way. Getting a COVID-19 test or having your doctor test you for the flu is the best way to determine which illness you have and what the appropriate next steps are.


COVID-19 SYMPTOMS

  • Symptoms typically appear two to 14 days after exposure
  • May experience loss of taste or smell
  • More contagious
  • People may be contagious for longer
  • Involved in more “superspreading events” where one person infects many others
  • Some people will experience severe complications and need hospitalization

SHARED SYMPTOMS

  • Have safe and effective vaccines
  • Can spread from person-to-person between those in close contact
  • Shared symptoms
    • Fever or chills
    • Cough
    • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
    • Fatigue
    • Sore throat
    • Runny or stuffy nose
    • Muscle pain or body aches
    • Headache

FLU SYMPTOMS

  • Symptoms usually develop one to four days after infection
  • Most people will recover on their own in a few days to two weeks
  • Some people will experience severe complications and need hospitalization

Can I have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time?

Yes, people can be infected with both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Health experts are still studying how common this is, but it is possible. If you have or suspect you have COVID-19, you should wait to get your flu shot until you have safely completed your isolation to avoid putting healthcare providers and other patients at risk.

Is it safe to get both vaccines?

It is completely safe to get both the COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot. You can even get them at the same time! Both vaccines are highly effective at safeguarding your body, and they can help prevent illness, hospitalization, and death caused by complications. If you do choose to get both shots on the same day, make sure you get each vaccine in a different arm to reduce any pain and potential swelling.

How can I keep myself safe from getting the flu?

There are simple steps you can take to keep yourself safe and healthy during flu season. They include:

  • Keep your hands clean
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes
  • Avoid contact with those who are sick
  • Wear a mask according to local guidelines to prevent spreading germs
  • If you have flu-like symptoms or think you may be getting sick, stay home and avoid close contact with others

When should I get my flu shot?

Ideally, you should receive your flu shot by the end of October before flu season peaks between December and February. Your body needs about two weeks to develop antibodies and start protecting you from the flu virus, so the earlier you can get your shot the better. The influenza virus is always changing, which is why it’s important to get your flu shot every year to stay protected from the most current strain.

A common myth is that the flu shot gives you the flu. This is false. It may trigger an immune response with mild, short-term side effects, such as soreness at the injection site, fever, or body aches, but these are side effects, and it is impossible to get the flu from the flu shot.

This flu season let’s stay safe and fight influenza together by getting our flu shot. Check with your primary care provider and local pharmacies to find a time and place that’s convenient for you.


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