As we prepare for the start of flu season, one questions is looming large on all of our minds: How will the current COVID-19 pandemic affect this flu season?
Much is still unknown about the relationship between COVID-19 and the flu, acknowledges Lawrence L. Livornese Jr., MD, Chairman of the Department of Medicine and an infectious disease specialist at Main Line Health. What we do know is that—just like every year—flu vaccines are one of the best ways to keep yourself and your family healthy, especially as we spend more time in close quarters.
Below, Dr. Livornese answers some commonly-asked questions about how COVID-19 may affect flu season.
Will the flu vaccine protect me from COVID-19?
No, but it is the best way to manage your risk for the flu and build a strong immune system. Until we have an effective COVID-19 vaccine, we need to focus on protecting ourselves against the health risks we do have vaccines for.
When should I get the flu vaccine?
Flu season usually peaks between December and February, but it’s a good idea to get vaccinated in September or October. If you aren't vaccinated by then, we still recommended you get it anytime until the end of flu season, which in some years lasts until May.
Is it safe for me to leave home to get a vaccine?
Yes; COVID-19 shouldn’t prevent you from seeking timely preventive or diagnostic medical care. As long as you’re wearing your mask and aren’t experiencing symptoms like a cough or fever, it’s safe for you to leave home for your flu vaccine. If you do have these symptoms, consult with your physician and schedule your appointment for another time.
Most physician offices and pharmacies anticipate that people may be anxious about leaving home and have responded by putting additional safety measures in place including curbside or drive-thru clinics, additional staff, and more appointment times to manage overcrowding.
I don’t usually get the flu vaccine. Should I get it this year?
You should get the flu vaccine every year, this is even more important if you’re a member of one of these high-risk groups:
- Pregnant women
- People age 65 and over
- Children age 6 months and over
- People who have a history of chronic health issues
How will I know the difference between COVID-19 and the flu if they’re both respiratory illnesses?
First, it’s important to note that while these are very different viruses, COVID-19 and the flu do have very similar symptoms. The same is true of the common cold, which is another common cold weather ailment. Consult the chart below for a list of symptoms for each of these illnesses.
If you’re not sure what your symptoms mean, make an appointment with your health care provider to review your symptoms so they can make an accurate diagnosis.
How exactly COVID will affect flu season remains to be seen, so the best thing you can do to protect yourself is getting vaccinated early and continuing to follow the preventive measures that have been in place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic: masking, washing your hands, cleaning frequently-touched objects and surfaces and keeping your circle of friends and family small.