Posted by Allison Grant, September 16, 2020 (last updated on November 20, 2020)
With COVID-19 still posing a risk in all communities across the United States, you might be wondering whether it’s safe for you and your family to get the seasonal flu vaccine this year.
In fact, COVID makes vaccination this flu season more important than ever. Getting your flu shot is paramount to ensuring the health and safety of your family and community.
Here are a few things you need to know about the upcoming flu season and vaccination schedule in light of the 2020 COVID pandemic.
Vaccination Protects Your Health and the Community
The annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your family from the dangers of the seasonal flu. While the vaccine won’t affect your likelihood of catching COVID-19, it will help prevent the contraction and spread of the influenza virus.
Not only will the annual flu vaccine protect your health and that of your family, it will protect your community. The healthcare system continues to feel the additional load of COVID cases. Medication and equipment used to treat the respiratory illness are in short supply due to the strain of the pandemic.
Getting your flu shot this year will contribute to the continued success of the healthcare system in treating COVID by preventing additional strain on facilities caused by unnecessary medical visits and hospitalizations. Additionally, it will protect higher-risk populations, such as those who are unable to vaccinate for the seasonal flu, from potential infection.
Flu Vaccination during COVID-19
It’s crucial you and your family seek vaccination this flu season. You can safely get a flu vaccine at multiple locations, including your doctor’s office, health departments and pharmacies. These locations have been given guidance that will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 during vaccination that include heightened safety, social distancing, and sanitation measures.
Be sure to continue practicing your own preventive routines before and following your vaccination. Thankfully, the precautions you should already be taking to avoid contraction of COVID-19 will also help protect you from the seasonal flu, as they are both spread in similar ways.
The Seasonal Flu vs COVID-19: Transmission and Prevention
The seasonal flu and COVID-19 both spread from close contact within 6 feet and by coming into contact with shared surfaces. They are both contagious at least one day before symptoms are exhibited.
Don’t forget that COVID-19 is more contagious than the seasonal flu in certain populations and age groups, causes more superspreading events, and may be contagious for much longer before symptoms arise and after they disappear.
COVID-19 is transmissible 2-14 days before symptoms present and up to 14 days after infection - regardless of whether or not symptoms arise.
The flu is contagious for one day before symptoms arise, and up to 7 days after symptoms disappear.
While measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing, increased sanitization practices, good hygiene and facemask policies will help reduce the spread of the seasonal flu virus, it’s still vital you get your flu shot this year. Even with increased preventive measures, it remains the most effective way to protect you and your family from the seasonal flu and the risk of coinfection.
Distinguishing Between the Seasonal Flu and COVID-19
COVID-19 and the seasonal flu share many features and may be difficult to distinguish from one another, as well as additional respiratory illnesses.
COVID and the seasonal flu both present with fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose or congestion, body pain and headaches. Children can also exhibit vomiting and diarrhea.
COVID-19 may present with an additional loss of taste and smell.
The duration of these symptoms may vary - flu symptoms tend to arise 1-4 days after exposure, generally last for 3-5 days but can linger up to two weeks.
The onset of COVID-19 symptoms begin anywhere from 2-14 days after exposure. The duration of these symptoms vary greatly by case severity. In mild cases, recovery takes about two weeks. Severe cases can take more than six weeks to run their course, and may require hospitalization.
It is important to note that it is possible to contract respiratory illnesses, including the flu, concurrently with COVID-19. Determining which respiratory illness you’ve contracted is impossible without diagnostic testing. While the CDC has developed a test that will detect both seasonal flu viruses and the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus, they may not be widely available, making it all the more important to book your flu shot this season to reduce the risk of contracting multiple illnesses. Reach out to a doctor if you are experiencing symptoms, and read more here about differences between the seasonal flu and COVID-19.
How to Prepare for the 2020-21 Flu Season
First and foremost, don’t neglect your annual flu shot - you can safely book a flu vaccine at multiple locations, including your doctor’s office, health departments and pharmacies. Vaccination is recommended for everyone above the age of six months in the absence of contraindications.
Aim to have your vaccinations completed by the end of October to ensure peak vaccine efficacy during the 2020/21 flu season. That being said, a flu vaccine will still protect you and your family from the seasonal flu as late as spring of 2021, so don’t avoid vaccination in later months of the year.
If you are experiencing symptoms of or have tested positive for COVID-19, defer vaccination until you are cleared to return to daily activities. This will keep your community and vaccinators safe from the spread.
The precautions you should already be taking to avoid contraction of COVID-19 will also help protect you from the seasonal flu. Continue taking the everyday preventive actions recommended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 this flu season to protect yourself, your family and your community this flu season.