A yearly flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months and older – even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting a flu vaccine every year is the best way to help prevent flu and its serious complications like hospitalizations. For children, getting an annual flu vaccine can even be lifesaving.
While it’s not possible to say for certain what will happen this fall and winter, CDC believes it’s likely that flu viruses and the coronavirus (COVID-19) will both be spreading. (Yes, you can get sick with COVID-19 and flu at the same time).
Even though getting a flu vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19, the vaccine can still reduce your risk of becoming seriously ill from flu and even dying from it. In addition, getting your flu vaccine will also help keep you out of the hospital, leaving the beds for COVID-19 patients and others who need them.
Flu Activity in the U.S. (As of the week ending on November 14, 2020)
During the 2019-20 flu season
The CDC reports that 195 children died due to flu and its complications. This is the highest number of pediatric flu deaths reported during a regular flu season. In addition, flu-related hospitalization rates were highest among children and young adults.
Benefits of Flu Vaccination
Getting the flu vaccine every year is very important, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting the flu vaccine can:
- Keep you from getting sick with flu.
- Help you and your family members reduce your risk of serious flu illness and flu-related complications, including hospitalization and death.*
- Help protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness and flu-related complications due to age and/or certain chronic health conditions.
- Protect women during and after pregnancy.
*A 2017 study published in Pediatrics showed that flu vaccination can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from the flu. The study found that half of flu-related deaths in children from 2010 to 2016 occurred in otherwise healthy children – only 22% of these children were fully vaccinated. Nearly 2/3 of children died within seven days of developing symptoms. See these emergency warning signs of serious flu illness in children from our partners at Families Fighting Flu.
Pneumococcal pneumonia is an example of a serious flu-related complication that can cause hospitalization or death. Flu season is good time for people 65 and older, and people with certain chronic conditions, to check with their healthcare provider about pneumococcal vaccinations.
When to Get the Flu Vaccine
While the CDC recommends that you and your family members get a flu vaccine by the end of October, it’s not too late. For the best protection, get vaccinated as soon as possible since it takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to begin working. You want to make sure that you and your family members to get vaccinated before flu begins spreading in your community.
Some children 6 months through 8 years of age will require two doses of flu vaccine for protection from flu.
- The 2 doses should be received at least 4 weeks apart.
- If your child needs 2 doses, begin the process early as possible to make sure your child is protected before flu starts spreading in your community.
- Be sure to get your child a second dose if they need one. It usually takes about 2 weeks after the second vaccine dose for your child to be protected against flu.
Types of Flu Vaccines
Every year, new flu vaccines are created to help protect against the flu viruses that research shows will be most common during the upcoming season.
Vaccine options for the 2020-2021 flu season include:
- Standard dose flu shots.
- High-dose flu shots (only recommended for people 65 years and older).
- Flu shots made with virus grown in cell culture instead of eggs. No eggs are involved in the production of this vaccine.
- Live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) is made with weakened flu virus that is given by nasal spray (only recommended for healthy, non-pregnant people between 2 and 49 years old).
The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) do not recommend one type of flu vaccine over another.
Read the AAP’s Q&A for Parents – Which Flu Vaccine Should My Children Get This Year?
Flu and COVID-19
Flu and COVID-19 are both respiratory illnesses that can result in hospitalization or death. Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis. View the differences and similarities between COVID-19 and flu.
The CDC has developed a test that will check for seasonal flu viruses and SARS CoV-2 (COVID-19). This test will be used by U.S. public health laboratories. Learn more.
Download CDC’s handout that shows the symptoms of COVID-19, Common Cold, Flu, Strep throat, Asthma and Seasonal Allergies.
Antiviral drugs are also available for treatment of the flu. If taken early (AS SOON AS YOUR SYMPTOMS BEGIN), antivirals can lessen symptoms, shorten duration of illness, and help prevent severe illness and flu complications.
But, not everyone needs to get antivirals. The people recommended to get antivirals are those who are at higher risk of complications and severe illness from flu including those 65 years and older, young children, pregnant women, and people with chronic health conditions. CDC recommends that healthcare providers treat patients with antivirals as soon as they suspect flu, and should not wait for confirmation from lab tests. Learn more.
What You Can Do to Help Keep Yourself and Your Family Healthy
- Get your flu vaccine as soon as possible. You want to protect your family at least 2 weeks before the flu begins spreading in your community.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- If you are sick, stay away from other people as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Clean and disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces in your home.
- Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a face mask.
- Practice social distancing – stay at least 6 feet from other people who are not from your household in both indoor and outdoor spaces.
- Follow public health advice regarding stay-at-home orders and other social distancing measures.
- Keep these items on hand when venturing out of your house: a face mask, tissues, and a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, if possible.
Common Questions About the Flu Vaccine
Can the flu vaccine give me the flu?
No. The way that flu vaccines are made they cannot cause the flu. Flu shots are made from either flu viruses that have been inactivated (killed) OR with proteins from a flu virus. (In other words, only parts of the flu virus are used instead of the full virus).
Nasal spray flu vaccine is made with weakened live flu viruses, and also cannot cause the flu. The weakened viruses are cold-adapted, which means they can only cause flu infection at the cooler temperatures found in your nose. These viruses cannot infect your lungs or other warmer areas of your body.
While some people may get mild side effects from the flu shot like a sore arm, a headache, muscle aches or a low fever, those side effects usually begin soon after the shot and only last 1 -2 days.
Why do some people not feel well or feel like they have flu symptoms after getting the flu vaccine?
The most common side effects from flu shots are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Some people also report having a low fever, headache and muscle aches. If these reactions occur, they usually begin soon after getting the shot and last 1-2 days.
Besides side effects, there are several reasons why someone might get flu symptoms, even after they have been vaccinated against flu.
- Some people can become ill from other respiratory viruses besides flu such as rhinoviruses, which are associated with the common cold, cause symptoms similar to flu, and also spread and cause illness during the flu season. The flu vaccine only protects you from the flu, not other illnesses.
- It is possible to be exposed to influenza viruses, which cause the flu, shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period after vaccination that it takes the body to develop immune protection. This may result in a person becoming ill with flu before protection from the vaccine takes effect.
- Some people may experience flu like symptoms even after getting vaccinated because they were exposed to a flu virus that is very different from the viruses the vaccine is designed to protect against. The ability of a flu vaccine to protect a person depends largely on the “match” between the viruses selected to make the flu vaccine that season and those spreading and causing illness. There are many different flu viruses that spread and cause illness among people.
Learn more about flu, its symptoms, and the vaccine that helps prevent it.