Dear Doctors: Do I really have to get a flu shot this year? I’m still social distancing, wearing a mask and not attending indoor events. I got the shot last year, but then there wasn’t any flu around. I just got a booster for COVID-19, so I’m uneasy about getting the flu shot, too.
Answer: Yes, you absolutely should get your flu shot this year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says everyone 6 months old and older should be vaccinated against influenza before the start of this year’s season.
It’s true last year’s flu season was historically mild due largely to widespread stay-at-home orders and masking and social distancing.
Another factor was that, due to the pandemic, people didn’t see their doctors and urgent care centers when they got sick, so many flu cases went undiagnosed.
After 18 months of limited contact outside of their households, people are traveling, socializing, returning to workplaces and generally spending more time in public. This raises their risk of catching — and passing along — the flu.
Due to the overlap in flu and COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, headache, body aches, cough, exhaustion and congestion, you need a test to know whether it’s the influenza virus or the coronavirus making you ill. It’s an important distinction because COVID requires specific and sustained precautions.
Additional medical visits strain our already-stressed health care system. All the more reason to get your flu shot as well as the COVID-19 vaccine.
Data collected by British and U.S. researchers found no signs of trouble when people get both vaccines at the same time. If you’re concerned, you can space your vaccinations by a few weeks.
Adding the flu vaccine to the precautions you’re already taking significantly lowers your risk of getting seriously ill.
Exceptions to the flu shot recommendation are people with severe allergies to any ingredient in the vaccine. People with egg allergies need to discuss the vaccine with their health care providers. So do those who have had Guillain-Barre syndrome. Some people in each of these categories might be advised not to get the flu vaccine. But that’s a minute subset of those eligible for the vaccine.
By getting vaccinated, you’re protecting yourself and everyone else.
Flu season runs from October to May, peaking between December and March. It takes about two weeks after a shot for immunity to kick in, so get vaccinated now.
Drs. Eve Glazier and Elizabeth Ko are internists at UCLA Health.