A yearly flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months and older – even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting a flu vaccine every year is the best way to help prevent flu and its serious complications like hospitalizations. For children, getting an annual flu vaccine can even be lifesaving.
While it’s not possible to say for certain what will happen in the fall and winter, CDC believes it’s likely that flu viruses and the coronavirus (COVID-19) will both be spreading. Even though getting a flu vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19, it can still reduce your risk of becoming seriously ill from flu and even dying from it. In addition, getting your flu vaccine will also help keep you out of the hospital, helping the U.S. to conserve healthcare supplies PPE, ventilators, etc.
Flu Activity in the U.S. (As of the week ending on September 12, 2020)
During the 2019-20 flu season
The CDC reports that 188 children died due to flu and its complications. In addition, flu-related hospitalization rates were highest among children and young adults.
What You Can Do to Help Keep Yourself and Your Family Healthy (For protection against coronovirus, flu and other respiratory diseases)
- Get your flu vaccine by the end of October if possible. You want to protect your family at least 2 weeks before the flu begins spreading in your community. (Yes, you can get sick with COVID-19 and flu at the same time).
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Follow public health advice regarding stay-at-home orders and other social distancing measures.
- Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a face mask.
- Stay informed. For the facts and updates about COVID-19, please visit CDC’s and WHO’s coronavirus websites.
Benefits of Flu Vaccination
Getting the flu vaccine every year is very important, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting the flu vaccine can:
- Keep you from getting sick with flu.
- Help you get back on your feet sooner if you do get sick with the flu.
- Help you and your family members reduce your risk of serious flu illness and flu complications, including hospitalization and death.*
- Help protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness and complications due to age and/or certain chronic health conditions.
- Protect women during and after pregnancy.
*A 2017 study published in Pediatrics showed that flu vaccination can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from the flu. The study found that half of flu-related deaths in children from 2010 to 2016 occurred in otherwise healthy children – only 22% of these children were fully vaccinated. Nearly 2/3 of children died within seven days of developing symptoms.
Pneumococcal pneumonia is an example of a serious flu-related complication that can cause hospitalization or death. Flu season is good time for people 65 and older, and people with certain chronic conditions, to check with their healthcare provider about pneumococcal vaccinations.
When to Get the Flu Vaccine
The CDC recommends that you and your family members get a flu vaccine in September or October. Since it takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to provide protection, it is best for you and your family members to get vaccinated before flu begins spreading in your community.
Getting the flu vaccine later in the season is still beneficial – as long as flu viruses are circulating – and can protect you and your family members from serious flu illness and flu-related complications.
Some children 6 months through 8 years of age will require two doses of flu vaccine for protection from flu. Children who need two doses of flu vaccine should start the vaccination process as soon as the flu vaccine is available because the two doses must be given at least four weeks apart, and you want to be certain that your children have as much protection as possible before flu begins spreading in your community.
Types of Flu Vaccines
Every year, new flu vaccines are created to help protect against the flu viruses that research shows will be most common during the upcoming season.
Vaccine options for the 2020-2021 flu season include:
- Standard dose flu shots.
- High-dose flu shots (only recommended for people 65 years and older).
- Flu shots made with virus grown in cell culture instead of eggs. No eggs are involved in the production of this vaccine.
- Live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) – made with weakened flu virus that is given by nasal spray (only recommended for healthy, non-pregnant people between 2 and 49 years old).
The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) do not recommend one type of flu vaccine over another.
Read the AAP’s Q&A for Parents – Which Flu Vaccine Should My Children Get This Year?
Flu and COVID-19
Flu and COVID-19 are both respiratory illnesses that can result in hospitalization or death. Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis. View the differences and similarities between COVID-19 and flu.
Antiviral drugs are also available for treatment of the flu. If taken early (AS SOON AS YOUR SYMPTOMS BEGIN), antivirals can lessen symptoms, shorten duration of illness, and help prevent severe illness and flu complications.
But, not everyone needs to get antivirals. The people recommended to get antivirals are those who are at higher risk of complications and severe illness from flu including those 65 years and older, young children, pregnant women, and people with chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. CDC recommends that healthcare providers treat patients with antivirals as soon as they suspect flu, and should not wait for confirmation from lab tests. Learn more.
Common Questions About the Flu Vaccine
Can the flu shot give me the flu?
No. The way that flu shots are made they cannot cause the flu. Flu shots are made from either flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ (killed) OR a single gene from a flu virus (instead of the full virus) so they can create an immune response without causing a flu infection.
While some people may get mild side effects from the flu shot like a sore arm, a headache, muscle aches or a low fever, those side effects usually begin soon after the shot and only last 1 -2 days.
Why do some people not feel well or feel like they have flu symptoms after getting the flu vaccine?
The most common side effects from flu shots are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Some people also report having a low fever, headache and muscle aches. If these reactions occur, they usually begin soon after getting the shot and last 1-2 days.
Besides side effects, there are several reasons why someone might get flu symptoms, even after they have been vaccinated against flu.
- Some people can become ill from other respiratory viruses besides flu such as rhinoviruses, which are associated with the common cold, cause symptoms similar to flu, and also spread and cause illness during the flu season. The flu vaccine only protects you from the flu, not other illnesses.
- It is possible to be exposed to influenza viruses, which cause the flu, shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period after vaccination that it takes the body to develop immune protection. This may result in a person becoming ill with flu before protection from the vaccine takes effect.
- Some people may experience flu like symptoms even after getting vaccinated because they were exposed to a flu virus that is very different from the viruses the vaccine is designed to protect against. The ability of a flu vaccine to protect a person depends largely on the “match” between the viruses selected to make the flu vaccine that season and those spreading and causing illness. There are many different flu viruses that spread and cause illness among people.
Learn more about flu, its symptoms, and the vaccine that helps prevent it.