Your Guide To Adult Vaccines
En español | September and October are big months for flu shots, but this year, it's also when COVID-19 booster shots could start rolling out. So you may be wondering: Is it OK to get your flu shot and COVID-19 booster at the same time?
Absolutely, health experts say. In fact, many doctors plan to encourage Americans to get both at once.
"It's two for the price of one,” says Ranit Mishori, M.D., a professor of family medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine. “Get one in each arm. It's an efficient and effective way to make sure you're protected." Mishori notes that the same goes for those who are immunocompromised and might want to time their third dose to their flu shot.
It's important for older adults to get both shots this year because COVID-19 cases are surging, fueled by the spread of the more contagious delta variant, just as the flu season is set to begin. Both diseases are especially dangerous for those over 65.
Although the flu season was nonexistent last year, experts expect a comeback this year with K-12 students back in school, more people traveling and fewer COVID-19 restrictions in place.
Why the CDC updated its guidance
When the COVID-19 vaccines first came out, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended not getting other vaccines for 14 days before and after each COVID-19 dose.
The agency changed its guidance in May after data showed that the COVID-19 vaccine was safe and that other vaccines would not interfere with the immune response, experts say.
"That was because we wanted to really assess the side effects of the COVID vaccine as we rolled it out. We didn't want to get that confused by giving other vaccines at the same time,” says William Schaffner, M.D., a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
Now, the CDC says COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines can be administered “without regard to timing. This includes simultaneous administration of COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines on the same day, as well as coadministration within 14 days.”
So will your side effects be worse?
It's unclear whether getting the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as another shot will exacerbate your side effects. But experts say it's possible.
"You may feel worse,” Mishori says. “Just take into consideration that if you're one of these people who often has side effects to being vaccinated, they may increase if you coadminister two different vaccines."
If you do get double jabbed, don't make any big plans for a few days after your appointment, Mishori advises. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help you feel better. Remember, she says, side effects are temporary and a sign the vaccines are working.
It's also OK to space them out
If you are concerned about side effects from two shots at once, clinicians say it's perfectly fine to space out your COVID-19 booster and other vaccines. Just remember that a delay increases the risk that you will get sick before you're protected — and experts say that catching either COVID-19 or the flu will be far worse than any potential risk in increased side effects. The CDC recommends that everyone age 6 months and older get a flu shot by the end of October.
Those age 65 or older should request either the high-dose flu shot or the adjuvanted flu vaccine, the CDC says; both produce a stronger immune response and more protection for older adults.
After you get the flu vaccine, it will take 10 to 14 before you're fully protected. This year's flu vaccine protects against two new influenza strains in addition to last year's, and it takes time for your body to make new antibodies.
On the other hand, it will take only two to three days for the COVID-19 booster to kick up your immunity, experts say, because your body is already primed from your vaccines earlier this year.
Three shots at once? What about four?
The CDC doesn't place limits on the number of vaccinations you can get at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine dose. So you can get the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine on the same day, or you can get a COVID-19 shot, a flu shot and any other vaccine such as measles, pneumonia or shingles during the same visit.
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If you're due for a shot that's not time-sensitive the way the COVID-19 and influenza shots are, Mishori says she sometimes recommends that patients space them out, especially if the other vaccine is known for its side effects, like the shingles vaccine is.
"I tell my patients, ‘You don't want to get the shingles and COVID vaccine at the same time because you're going to feel really, really miserable,” she says. Shingles vaccine side effects may include fatigue, headache, muscle pain and nausea.
However, Mishori says convenience is a big consideration. “I'll ask, ‘How disruptive is it going to be for your life? Can you get time off if you work to come back in? If not, go ahead and get it today.'”
Michelle Crouch is a contributing writer who has covered health and personal finance for some of the nation's top consumer publications. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Prevention, The Washington Post and The New York Times.