As winter approaches, physicians at Loma Linda University Health want to remind the public of the importance of protecting themselves against the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza — flu — viruses generally spread most frequently in the fall and winter seasons, reaching their peak in the United States between December and February.
COVID-19 and the flu are spreading simultaneously this year; however, there may be some misconceptions with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters being available alongside flu vaccines.
Disease experts recommended getting the flu vaccine this year
Richelle Guerrero-Wooley, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Loma Linda University Health, says although last year's flu season had lower than average numbers, there is no guarantee of the same season this year — getting the flu vaccine is essential for the same reasons it always has been.
"During a regular season, the flu is still a significant leading cause of severe illness and death in the United States," Guerrero-Wooley says. "The vaccine works to prevent that."
Additionally, those vaccinated against the flu help diminish the spread of the virus, especially to those more vulnerable in their communities, she says.
You can become sick with COVID-19 and the flu at the same time
Guerrero-Wooley says healthcare providers were worried about a spread of dual infections for COVID-19 and the flu in communities last year. Additionally, at-risk populations for severe COVID-19 are overall the same at-risk populations for severe influenza as well.
"We don't yet know if this is something we need to be worried about this year with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters alongside flu vaccines beings available, but you can contract both viruses at the same time," she says. "It's concerning because we know both COVID-19 and the flu can develop into severe and life-threatening illnesses."
COVID-19 vaccines and boosters don't help in preventing the flu
Guerrero-Wooley still recommends the flu vaccine even if you're partially or fully vaccinated against COVID-19. She says while both viruses cause respiratory diseases with similar symptoms, they ultimately require different protections.
"The COVID-19 vaccine does not offer protection or immunity against the flu virus — each vaccine was created to target its specific virus," she says.
Additionally, while wearing masks and social distancing offer some protection from contracting and transmitting the flu, similar to COVID-19, disease experts still recommended receiving the flu vaccine as an added layer of protection.
"While all of these added precautions can certainly help decrease the spread of the flu, no one thing offers 100% protection," Guerrero-Wooley says.
The flu vaccine does not interfere with the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines or vice-versa
"At this point, there is no data to show that the vaccines interfere with one another," she says. "The recommendation is that it's okay to get the vaccines at the same time."
According to the CDC, "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, it's best to speak with your health care provider
Be vigilant — COVID-19 and the flu have many overlapping symptoms
Guerrero-Wooley says healthcare providers are seeing more of an overlap of symptoms than last year, including runny nose, a dry cough, fevers, chills, and muscle aches.
"If you're developing any type of symptoms that could be either from COVID-19 or the flu, we recommend staying home from work, practicing good hand hygiene, wearing masks, and especially quarantining from others as much as possible," she says. "It's also reasonable to go ahead and get tested as soon as possible to see if you test positive for either virus."
Visit our website to learn more about the flu or schedule a flu shot for your or your family.