Do you need a flu vaccine if you have COVID-19 or if you’ve had it in the past? The short answer is an emphatic yes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has different recommendations on the ideal timing for getting a flu vaccine, depending on whether you currently have COVID-19 or you have recovered, as well as the severity of your illness.
Why the Flu Shot Still Matters
If you’ve had COVID-19, you still need a flu shot because different viruses cause the two diseases. A novel coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, causes COVID-19, and several influenza viruses that change every year cause the flu, the CDC explains.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) determines the three or four flu viruses that are most likely to circulate in the next flu season, and vaccine manufacturers update the flu shot accordingly. In the United States, updates that address genetic changes in two influenza A viruses (H1N1 and H3N2) and one or two influenza B viruses are included in each season’s flu vaccines.
Flu Symptoms and Dangers
Recovering from coronavirus does not protect you from catching the flu. Even if you had a mild course of illness, remember that the flu and COVID-19 share some uncomfortable symptoms:
- Fever or feeling feverish and experiencing chills
- Muscle pain or body aches
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Sore throat
- Vomiting and diarrhea sometimes, although these symptoms are more common in children than in adults
Most people recover from the flu without serious complications while missing work, family time and other activities for up to 14 days. But for some people, the flu leads to hospitalizations and deaths, according to the CDC.
Flu complications are similar to many seen with COVID-19:
- Additional bacterial infections
- Difficulty breathing due to fluid in the lungs, called acute respiratory distress syndrome
- Heart attack and stroke
- Inflammation of the brain, heart or muscle tissues
- Multiple-organ failure, including respiratory failure, kidney failure and shock
- Respiratory failure
- Worsening of chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and nervous system disorders
In general, people who have a higher risk of serious complications from the flu include adults over the age of 65, pregnant women, very young children, and those with asthma, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and other chronic medical conditions, the CDC says.
People with a weakened immune system due to a disease also have a higher risk of more severe illness with the flu. As the pandemic unfolds, scientists have learned that COVID-19 can result in prolonged illness, even in young adults who were otherwise healthy.
Flu can spread before you have symptoms and for several days after you catch it. People with weakened immune systems who have the flu might be able to infect others for even more extended periods, the CDC advises.
Postpone Your Flu Shot if You Have COVID-19 Now
The best way to protect yourself and others against seasonal flu infection this fall or winter is to get a flu shot. According to the CDC, the flu shot reduced the risk of flu by 40% to 60% when the vaccine was well matched to the viruses estimated to be spreading in previous flu seasons.
But if you have a suspected or confirmed coronavirus infection, the CDC advises postponing a flu shot until after your symptoms have resolved. This recommendation is essential if you are very sick, but it also applies if you tested positive for COVID-19 and do not have any symptoms.
Post-Coronavirus Flu Shot Timing
Use the CDC’s criteria for discontinuing home isolation after COVID-19 to determine your best time for a flu shot:
- If you never had any COVID-19 symptoms, wait 10 days after the date of your first positive coronavirus test
- If you had symptoms, wait at least 24 hours after your last fever — without the use of fever-reducing medications — and your symptoms show signs of improving
- If you were severely ill with COVID-19, you should stay in home isolation for up to 20 days after your symptoms began and consult your doctor about the best time for a flu shot.
Technically, it’s OK to have a flu shot if you only have a mild case of COVID-19, the CDC says. However, it recommends postponing getting vaccinated until you are well to minimize the risk of spreading the virus to health care workers and others while you are still contagious.
Stay Safe, Get Vaccinated
The CDC says it takes about two weeks for protective antibodies to develop in response to the flu shot. It recommends having a flu shot in September and, ideally, by the end of October.
But if you’ve had coronavirus and need to wait until you meet the CDC’s criteria for determining when to get vaccinated, rest assured that you can still get a flu shot later in the season, well into January and the early spring months. The CDC expects vaccines will be available for a longer period this flu season because vaccine manufacturers are producing a record number of doses.
Protect Yourself, Protect Others From the Flu
Getting a flu shot is the most critical step you can take to avoid catching the flu and becoming seriously ill if you do come down with it. Getting vaccinated also helps protect your loved ones, co-workers and members of your community from getting sick, too.
Nothing Matters More to Us Than You
If you have COVID-19 or had it in the past and have questions about getting a flu shot, speak to your doctor about timing. Flu vaccines are available through AdventHealth primary care physicians and at Centra Care Urgent Care locations.