Why experts say people should get both flu and COVID-19 shots as soon as possible
Although the peak of flu season starts in December and lasts through February, it officially starts in October. This year, doctors recommend not only getting a flu shot this month, but also getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Leandris Liburd, associate director for minority health and health equity at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, explained the urgency in a conversation with WLRN's Veronica Zaragovia.
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They discussed why it's imperative for people to get both shots as soon as they can.
Below is an excerpt of their conversation which has been edited for length and clarity.
WLRN: Why should people go get their flu shots now and not wait until the winter time? Why would you recommend getting them now?
DR. LIBURD: This is actually the ideal time to get a flu shot before the end of October because you get ahead of the flu season, and so what we want to do this year is to be able to protect ourselves, protect our families by getting a flu shot and then going through the winter with the confidence that we can likely avoid hospitalizations because of severe complications associated with the flu.
Do people need to space out their flu shot and their COVID-19 vaccine, or their booster of the COVID-19 vaccine?
No, they can get their COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot at the same time. If you haven't gotten a COVID-19 vaccination, it is absolutely fine to get it at the same time that you get the flu shot.
Some people are saying I got my COVID-19 vaccine, I'm not going to go get a flu shot this year. I've had enough vaccinations. Can you explain why the CDC wants people to get both shots?
The flu shot will protect them from severe illness from the flu. And because we're still working our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, people are still being hospitalized with COVID-19. We want to protect our health care workers [and] the health care resources that we have, because they are continuing to be taxed by COVID-19.
The COVID-19 vaccine, does it help with immunity against the flu?
No. They are two different viruses, so you want to get both vaccines for the flu and for COVID-19.
Are there regional differences in terms of the flu? Is it worse in some places than others? Maybe if you happen to know where South Florida falls?
I don't think we know that at this time because we're at the beginning of the flu season. And so we want to minimize the likelihood that this will be a severe flu season because we had so little flu last year, as people were working from home and social distancing and washing their hands and wearing a mask. We still need to be diligent about the mitigation measures, but the one thing that we can do is to get vaccinated.
Are you also recommending that children and pregnant persons get vaccinated against the flu?
Absolutely. From the age of six months on, we recommend that people get a flu shot and yes, pregnant people should be vaccinated as well. The baby is also being protected. So this is a time for us to get educated. It's a time for us to do what we can do, to protect ourselves and our families, our coworkers and those around us by getting a flu shot.
We have more than 50 years’ experience with flu vaccines. We know they're safe. We know that they are effective. Education and knowledge is power. This is the way to slow the spread of the flu as well as COVID-19, and this is the way that we take care of each other.
This year, we saw just the absolute devastation of Black and brown communities in the face of COVID-19, and we know that there are a number of factors that contributed to that risk. Things like underlying chronic conditions that compromise the immune system like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, different lung diseases, obesity. Historically Black and brown communities have tended to be under-vaccinated. It doesn't have to be so, and we absolutely want to minimize the likelihood that anyone would develop both a flu as well as COVID-19 at the same time.
You can find where to get a flu shot and more information about the shots here — the site is a collaboration between the CDC, the Ad Council and the American Medical Association.