Why get the flu shot and coronavirus booster at the same time? Experts weigh in

Why get the flu shot and coronavirus booster at the same time?  Experts weigh in

Pharmacies, clinics and primary care providers are offering the updated 2023-2024 coronavirus vaccine and this year’s flu vaccine — and it’s safe and convenient to get both vaccines at the same time, according to medical experts.

In fact, you can get both doses in the same arm, said Dr. Graham Snyder, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at UPMC.

“There is no convincing evidence that the effectiveness of either vaccine, or the risk of complications or side effects, is different if you take them together or if you take them separately,” Snyder said.

“The CDC says grouping respiratory virus vaccines together is perfectly fine,” he said. “We always want to make sure that as many people as possible benefit from these two protections.”

Snyder added that both vaccines sometimes have minor side effects, such as a sore arm or body aches, but they should not last more than a few days.

“When we inject your arm (and it hurts), that means blood is flowing to that area, and that is your immune response in that area, just like if you were stung by a bee or if you were bitten by something.” Dr. Brian Lamb, an internal medicine physician at AHN, explained. “Your immune system goes to that area. Your body detects something strange in that area, so it will check and see what’s going on.

Minor aches and fever after doses are a sign that your immune system is doing its job and learning how to fight the flu and COVID, Lamb said. If you don’t have symptoms, it doesn’t mean the vaccine didn’t work, some people react differently and have milder symptoms.

“It’s like putting your body through training camp,” he said. “The vaccine is made to mimic that you are actually being attacked… It’s the same kind of symptoms you get when you’re sick. That’s because your immune system is starting to improve.”

Stay informed

Whether a person gets the doses at the same time or at different visits, it’s important to stay up to date, Snyder said.

“People are more likely to get the full list of vaccines if they have access to vaccines that are both safe and effective,” Snyder said. “People are more likely to get vaccinated if you can get it when it’s convenient. You run the risk of people not coming back for that second visit.”

Even if you’ve already been vaccinated against COVID-19 or got a booster shot last year, this year’s vaccine is worth getting, said Dr. Barbara Nightingale, deputy director of clinical services at the Allegheny County Health Department.

“(Covid and influenza) are still the leading causes of hospitalization and death, and that is changing over time,” Nightingale said. “Even if you got the vaccine previously, viruses change over time, and your immunity fades over time.”

At the Allegheny County Immunization Clinic, people can get flu and coronavirus vaccines at the same time, along with the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine if they qualify.

“A lot of older people would benefit from having all of these things,” she said. “You can actually get (coronavirus, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus vaccines) in the same visit, if you want.”

She said many people are getting coronavirus and flu vaccines at the same time at the county clinic.

“It’s mostly convenient, it’s one and done,” she said. “Some people prefer that if they have a few side effects from it, they’d rather have it all at once. The vast majority, because of the convenience, you only have to go in for one visit.”

Not too late

Snyder stressed that it is not too late to get this year’s flu or coronavirus vaccine.

“In general, with vaccines, it takes your body a few weeks to fully prepare, from the time you receive the vaccine until your immune system has time to process that information. If you wait until the flu has already peaked, you’ve missed the opportunity to fully protect yourself.”

“We’re starting to see the number of flu cases rise. There may still be a lot of time left in the season – there’s plenty of time to take advantage of the protective benefits you get from the flu vaccine. It’s certainly not too late.”

Julia Maruca is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia at jmaruca@tribive.com.

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