Why It is More Important Than Ever to Get a Flu Vaccine During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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This Flu Season, Protect Yourself and Your Community By Getting Your Flu Shot Today

STATEWIDE – Getting a flu vaccine this fall is more important than ever because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses, like the flu, this fall and winter will be vital in our healthcare system’s ability to combat the pandemic. To avoid what experts call the “twindemic” (a flu and COVID-19 pandemic), the CDC is advising everyone 6 months or older to get a flu shot vaccine this year, even if you normally would not get one.

The CDC has worked with vaccine manufacturers to have extra flu vaccines available this season. The CDC recommends getting a flu vaccination in September or October, but getting vaccinated anytime during the flu season can help protect you. The flu vaccine may take up to two weeks to become effective, so getting it earlier in the season is recommended. Use the Vaccine Finder to find out where to get vaccinated near you.​

COVID-19 is at least 20 times more fatal than the seasonal flu. While the flu vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19, the flu vaccination is especially important for people with certain underlying medical conditions who are at higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu. Many of these conditions also increase the risk for serious outcomes from COVID-19.

Who Is At High Risk for the flu?

  • Adults 65+
  • Adults with Chronic Health Conditions (Asthma, Heart Disease, Stroke, Diabetes, Chronic Kidney Disease)
  • Pregnant Women 
  • People with HIV/AIDS
  • Young Children (6 months and older) 
  • Cancer Patients and Survivors 

What’s the Difference Between the Flu and COVID-19?

Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses. 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.

The flu and COVID-19 share many characteristics, but there are some key similarities and differences between the two.

Similarities

Both COVID-19 and flu can have varying degrees of signs and symptoms, ranging from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe symptoms. Common symptoms that COVID-19 and the flu share include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults

Differences

Flu viruses can cause mild to severe illness, including common signs and symptoms listed above.

COVID-19 seems to cause more serious illnesses in some people. Other signs and symptoms of COVID-19, different from flu, may include change in or loss of taste or smell.

Graphic provided by OHSU and State of Oregon

Vaccines for COVID-19 and the flu must be approved or authorized for emergency use by the FDA. There’s no evidence that the flu vaccine causes people to be more susceptible to COVID-19.

There are multiple FDA-licensed influenza vaccines produced annually to protect against the 3 or 4 flu viruses that scientists anticipate will circulate each year. The flu vaccine will not cause you to test positive for COVID-19. The COIVD-19 tests are specific to that virus and do not detect other viruses. There’s no overlap.

COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than the flu and causes more serious illnesses in some people. It can also take longer before people show symptoms and people can be contagious for longer. Another important difference is there is a vaccine to protect against flu. Vaccine developers and other researchers and manufacturers are expediting the development of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19; however, there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus. 

For more information on the flu vaccine and flu prevention, visit oregon.gov/oha/fluprevention

About Author

Sarah Dean is Willamette University student and a fellow with the Governor's Communications team.

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