In 2020, cases of flu in the U.S. almost disappeared, with the CDC estimating there were only a few thousand cases. Compare that to 2019, when it was estimated there were at least 39 million cases. Why the difference? Health experts believe that less person-to-person interaction – including social distancing, restricted travel and limited in-person school for children – played a major role. The widespread use of face coverings and emphasis on hygiene practices such as handwashing also helped reduce the spread of the flu virus.
However, that doesn’t mean the 2021 flu season will be just as mild. Many people have resumed indoor activities that were put on hold last year, such as socializing with family and friends, eating indoors at restaurants, attending sporting events or concerts and returning to work in person. Across the U.S., children have largely returned to in-person school. And in many states where mask mandates have been relaxed, adults will spend less time wearing them. All of these factors and others are likely to help spread the flu virus this fall and winter.
“The best way to protect your health and the health of those around you is to get vaccinated against both COVID-19 and the flu,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “Cases of COVID-19 are rising among school-age children, and while many are still too young to get a COVID-19 vaccine, almost every child can get a flu shot.”
Fortunately, the flu shot for the 2021-2022 flu season is now available. With a few exceptions, the CDC recommends the flu vaccine for everyone six months and older. It’s recommended that everyone get their flu shot by the end of October. Let’s answer some common questions related to the flu shot and COVID-19.
Can I get the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time?
Yes, you can get a COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot (or other vaccines) at the same visit. Previously, the CDC recommended waiting 14 days between getting a COVID-19 vaccine and another type of vaccination. Data showed this wait was not needed, so the recommendation to wait was lifted.
Does the flu shot protect against COVID-19 or vice versa?
No, the flu shot only reduces the risk of illness, hospitalization and death related to the flu virus, not the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Similarly, getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection against COVID-19, but those vaccines are not designed to protect against the flu virus. For more information on COVID-19 vaccinations, visit the CDC’s FAQ page.
Is it possible to contract the flu and COVID-19 at the same time?
Yes, you can get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Because the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are so similar, it can be hard to tell the difference between them.
Your doctor can use a test to diagnose whether COVID-19 or the flu is causing your symptoms. However, with doctors, nurses and other healthcare resources stretched thin due to the current pandemic, any precautionary steps you can take to avoid getting either virus and needing a doctor’s visit for a diagnostic test will not only help your health, but our healthcare system as well.
What are the main similarities and differences between flu and COVID-19?
People infected with both COVID-19 and flu can have no symptoms (asymptomatic), mild symptoms or severe symptoms. Common symptoms include:
- Fever or feeling feverish/having chills
- Cough, sore throat and/or headaches
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle pain or body aches
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Change in or loss of taste or smell (although this is more common with COVID-19)
COVID-19 spreads more easily than flu – particularly the Delta variant – and generally causes more severe symptoms. People with flu get symptoms on average one to four days after infection, while people with COVID-19 get symptoms on average five days after infection. It’s possible to spread both viruses before symptoms appear (or without symptoms for those who are asymptomatic), but people with COVID-19 tend to be contagious for longer. For more information about comparing COVID-19 and flu, visit this similarities and differences page on the CDC’s website.
Is it recommended to get the flu shot even if COVID-19 is spreading in my community?
Yes, getting the flu shot is an essential part of protecting your health and too important to skip. You should follow the practices recommended by your doctor’s office when you arrive or the healthcare professional administering the flu shot where you receive it. These precautions are likely to include wearing a face covering and keeping at least six feet away from others for the duration of your visit.