Cooler weather brings thoughts of falling leaves, cozy sweaters, holiday decorations and more time indoors. As winter approaches, it's also a good time to schedule flu shots for the family.
With experts projecting this year's flu season could be more severe than previous years, Thomas Lamarre, MD, an infectious disease specialist with The Christ Hospital, recommends making plans to also get the new COVID-19 booster as an additional defense against the coronavirus and its various strains.
COVID-19 boosters add bivalent protections
The updated "bivalent" COVID-19 booster released in September 2022 offers an upgrade compared to the previous boosters in that it fights against two virus types. It now offers protections against both the original coronavirus and the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants. Those variants have become the dominant strains causing illness and have more potential to evade the original vaccines and even natural immunity from earlier infections.
"The new COVID-19 boosters are the same as the previous vaccines," Dr. Lamarre says, "just with a smaller dose and an added omicron-specific mRNA element. These boosters can prevent you from spreading COVID-19 to others. They can also protect your family against severe illness, hospitalization, long-term COVID-19 effects and even death."
Dr. Lamarre says it's perfectly safe to get your COVID-19 booster at the same time as your annual flu shot, but there's a little extra timing to consider to get the most protection.
"The FDA recommends that you wait to get the new booster at least two months after your last COVID-19 vaccine or two months since you last tested positive," Dr. Lamarre says. "But to really maximize the effectiveness of the bivalent booster, you should wait until four to six months since your last shot or positive test."
Dr. Lamarre reminds us that adults don't need to get the same brand name for all COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. Mixing and matching could actually be beneficial. And booster side effects will be similar to the side effects you may have experienced from your first COVID-19 vaccine. These are fever, pain at the injection site, headache, and general fatigue. All of these side effects should be mild to moderate.
vaccine guidance from the Centers for Disease Control recommends COVID-19 boosters for anyone ages 5 and up (updated October 14, 2022). Your
primary care provider is a great resource for keeping your recommended vaccinations up to date. If you do get a vaccination at another location like a neighborhood pharmacy, don't forget to update your health records in your
Flu season is coming
So, what's the guidance for flu season? World Health Organization's Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System experts observed how countries in the Southern Hemisphere experienced the flu season over the last few months. They then used that data to forecast this year's flu season in the United States. According to their projections, our flu season is expected to start earlier than usual and will be more severe than in the past few years.
"Australia saw more severe cases of the flu over a longer period of time during their winter. Therefore, we expect our flu season to peak earlier than usual this year, in December or January," notes Dr. Lamarre.
CDC recommends that everyone aged 6 months and older get a flu shot. Dr. Lamarre suggests timing your annual flu shot for mid to late October to reduce your risk of getting sick during the peak of the season. "A flu shot may not protect you or your family from other infections like a cold, but it will protect you and your family from getting so sick that you have to stay home from school or work and from infecting others."
As with any vaccine, the flu shot comes with side effects.
According to the CDC, the most common flu shot side effects are redness, soreness and swelling at the injection site, low-grade headache, fever, nausea, muscle aches and general tiredness.
Flu vs. COVID-19
It is possible to get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. A double infection can make you or a family member severely ill. Fortunately, Dr. Lamarre points out that getting both shots at the same time is completely safe.
It can be hard to tell the difference between flu and COVID-19 symptoms. However, COVID-19 spreads more easily than the flu and is more likely to cause severe illness. The CDC identifies these symptoms for both the flu and COVID-19:
- Difficulty breathing
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Runny or stuffy nose
One difference between the viruses is that it could take longer to experience symptoms with COVID-19, up to 14 days after infection. With the flu, you will experience symptoms within 1 to 4 days after infection.
You can also spread the flu virus about a day before you have symptoms and for up to 7 days after symptoms appear. On the other hand, with COVID-19, you can spread the virus to others 2 to 3 days before you feel symptoms and for up to 8 days after symptoms appear. For more information about the differences, check out the
Dr. Lamarre notes that home COVID-19 tests can tell you if you have COVID-19, but he still recommends contacting your primary care provider for treatment for the flu or COVID-19. Testing in a medical facility is also important because it can reveal if you have both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.
Don't let the flu or COVID-19 get in the way of your fall family fun. Instead, decide to protect your family today by scheduling flu shots and COVID-19 boosters. If you have any questions about keeping your family safe this fall, talk to your primary care provider.
Need help finding a primary care provider close to home or work? Call our new patient scheduling line at 513-585-3000.