Flu activity was kept low last season because of vaccination, social distancing, masking, school closures and limited travel. Now that many pandemic restrictions have been lifted, the flu has a much higher chance of spreading.
The timing of flu is difficult to predict and can vary in different parts of the country and from season to season. So, while we haven’t seen much flu activity yet, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t prepare. Experts have warned that reduced population immunity due to lack of flu virus activity since March 2020 could result in an early, and possibly severe flu season.
Thankfully, there is something that we can all do to prevent illness and hospitalizations caused by flu. We can get vaccinated!
What is the difference between the flu and COVID-19?
Flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and seasonal flu (most often just called “flu”) is caused by infection with one of many influenza viruses that spread annually among people.
In general, COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than flu and causes more serious illnesses in some people. Compared with people who have flu infections, people who have COVID-19 can take longer to show symptoms and be contagious for longer. This FAQ page compares COVID-19 and flu, given the best available information to date.
So, do I need to get the flu vaccine this year?
Yes! Getting a flu vaccine is an essential part of protecting yours, and your family’s health every year. Yearly flu vaccination is recommended for everyone aged six months and older. It is also important to note that certain people are at greater risk, including:
- Young kids (especially kids under five years).
- People 65 years and older.
- People of any age with certain health conditions like asthma and lung diseases, diabetes, heart disease, neurological conditions, kidney or liver disorders, cancer, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia.
- Pregnant women.
- American Indians and Alaskan Natives.
- Health care professionals.
- Household contacts and caregivers of kids, especially those in contact with babies under six months of age who are too young to get seasonal flu vaccine.
- Household contacts and caregivers of people in any of the above groups.
Will a flu vaccine protect me against COVID-19?
Flu vaccines are not designed to protect against COVID-19. Flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness, hospitalization, and death in addition to other important benefits.
Likewise, getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection against COVID-19, but those vaccines are not designed to protect against flu. Visit the CDC’s Frequently Asked Questions page for information about COVID-19 vaccinations.
Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine at the same time?
Yes, you can get a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine at the same time!
Even though both vaccines can be given at the same visit, people should follow the recommended schedule for either vaccine: If you haven’t gotten your currently recommended doses of COVID-19 vaccine, get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can, and ideally, get a flu vaccine by the end of October. To find a COVID-19 vaccine provider, go here.
While limited data exist on giving COVID-19 vaccines with other vaccines, including flu vaccines, experience with giving other vaccines together has shown the way our bodies develop protection and possible side effects are generally similar whether vaccines are given alone or with other vaccines. If you have concerns about getting both vaccines at the same time, you should speak with a health care provider.
If I get sick with the flu, am I at greater risk of contracting COVID-19?
Because COVID-19 is still a relatively new illness, there is little information about how flu illness might affect a person’s risk of getting COVID-19. We do know that people can be infected with flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 at the same time.
Getting a flu vaccine is the best protection against flu and its potentially serious complications, and getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection against COVID-19.
When is the best time to get your influenza vaccine?
September and October are generally good times to be vaccinated. Ideally, everyone should be vaccinated by the end of October.
Adults, especially those older than 65, should not get vaccinated early (in July or August) because protection in this group may decrease over time. Children can get vaccinated as soon as vaccine becomes available—even if this is in July or August. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have questions about the flu shot.
While flu activity may be low right now, it could begin increasing at any time. Remember, after you are vaccinated, your body takes about two weeks to develop antibodies that protect against the flu.
Where can I get the flu vaccine?
If you don’t have a health care professional you regularly see, you can find flu vaccines at many places, including your local pharmacy!
Looking for a vaccine for your child? Talk to their pediatrician or call the Help Me Grow Washington Hotline at 1-800-322-2588.
How much does a flu shot cost?
In Washington, all children under age 19 get flu vaccines and other recommended vaccines at no cost. That said, a provider may charge an administration fee to give the vaccine. You can ask them to waive this fee if you cannot afford it.
Uninsured and over 18 years old? The WA Department of Health is collaborating with Safeway Inc. and Albertsons Companies LLC to offer free flu vaccines across the state. Check here for a list of participating locations.
Note: Most insurance plans, including Medicare part B, cover the cost of flu vaccine for adults.
I got the flu shot. What else can I do to prevent getting sick?
The flu vaccine keeps many people from getting the flu, however some people who get the flu vaccine may still get sick. If you do get the flu, the vaccine will help reduce the severity of your illness. It will also lower your chance of needing to go to the hospital.
Increase your protection by covering your coughs and sneezes, washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, and staying home when you’re sick. Cloth face coverings or masks can also help prevent the spread of the flu—just like with COVID-19!
If you do feel sick with flu, it’s important to know when to stay home and when to get emergency medical care. When in doubt, check with your doctor.