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The Flu Vaccine and COVID-19: What You Need to Know

The Flu Vaccine and COVID-19: What You Need to Know

This article is for adults and parents of children 6 months of age and older for whom getting the flu vaccine is recommended, or anyone who wants to learn more about the flu vaccine. The goal of this patient education activity is to help patients engage in shared decision-making with their doctor about the importance of getting the flu vaccine every year.

You will learn about:

  • What the flu is and who can get it

  • What the flu vaccine is and why it's important to get it

  • Who should get the flu vaccine and when

  • Getting the flu vaccine during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic

  • Questions to ask your doctor


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What Is the Flu?

Influenza -- or the flu -- is a contagious respiratory illness caused by several different influenza (flu) viruses.

Flu viruses exist year-round, but in the US they are most common in the fall and winter. Flu season is usually October through March, but some years it can last into the summer.


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Who Can Get the Flu

Anyone at any age can get the flu. For some people the flu is mild, but for others it can be severe and even cause death.

Serious problems from the flu can happen to anyone, but people at a higher risk include:

  • Adults 65 years of age or older

  • Children younger than 5 years of age

  • Pregnant women

  • People with certain conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease


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How the Flu Spreads

The flu is mainly spread by droplets in the air when someone with the flu talks, coughs, or sneezes.

You can spread the flu before you even know you're sick, and for up to 7 days after you get sick. Some people -- including children -- can spread it to others for an even longer time.

Covering your mouth and nose when you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose, and washing your hands frequently can help you keep from spreading the flu to others.


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The Flu Vaccine: Protecting Yourself and Others

The best way to keep from getting the flu is to get an influenza vaccine -- usually by getting a flu shot -- every year. This also lowers your chances of having serious problems from the flu and of spreading it to others.

The flu vaccine stimulates your immune system -- your body's defense system -- to produce special substances and cells that can fight the flu virus. The vaccine doesn't cause the flu or increase your risk of getting the flu or other illnesses, such as COVID-19.


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The Flu Vaccine: Protecting Yourself and Others (continued)

Flu vaccines protect against the 3 or 4 flu viruses that may be most common during the flu season. The protection you get can depend on your age, health, and the match between the viruses the vaccine covers and those that are active that season.

The flu vaccine may not keep you from getting the flu, but if you get it, you won't get as sick and you'll have fewer complications than you would if you didn't get the vaccine.


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The Flu and Other Illnesses

There are other viruses active during flu season that can make you sick, like those that cause the common cold and the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 

Getting the flu can make it easier for you to get other viruses and illnesses. Getting the flu vaccine can help keep you and your lungs healthy. This can be especially important if you're exposed to COVID-19.  


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Flu Season and the COVID-19 Pandemic

When there is a viral pandemic, like the coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever to get the flu vaccine.

The flu vaccine can help keep you from getting sick and going to the hospital, an important consideration during a coronavirus pandemic. You'll want to do everything you can to keep yourself and those around you healthy and avoid situations that may expose you to the coronavirus.


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Who Should Get the Flu Vaccine and When

Almost everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year. Talk to your doctor about if there's a reason you shouldn't get it, or if you think you shouldn't get it.

Getting vaccinated is especially important for people at a high risk of getting the flu, or of developing serious complications from the flu.

You can get the flu vaccine at any time, but the best time is before flu season starts. So talk to your doctor about the right time to get vaccinated.


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Getting the Flu Vaccine May Be Different This Season

Getting the flu vaccine during a coronavirus pandemic may be different than it was in other seasons. Doctors' offices, clinics, and pharmacies may have different hours or rules for giving the vaccine so they can control the number of patients and ensure social distancing.

Be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about when and where you should get the flu vaccine for yourself and others in your family.  


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Questions to Ask Your Doctor

There are different flu vaccines. They all provide protection, but the one your doctor recommends will mainly depend on your age and other conditions you may have.

Questions you can ask your doctor can include:

  • Why is it especially important to get the flu vaccine this year, and every year?

  • When and where should I get the flu vaccine?

  • What type of flu vaccine is best for me and my family?

  • What else can I do to protect myself and my family?


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You have successfully completed the program: The Flu Vaccine and COVID-19: What You Need to Know

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful

Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine

Seasonal Flu Shot

Flu (Influenza)


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Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Susan L. Smith, MN, PhD

Senior Director, Learning & Development, Medscape, LLC

Disclosure: Susan L. Smith, MN, PhD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Senior Scientific Content Manager, Medscape, LLC

Disclosure: Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


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