With doctors’ offices and pharmacies now offering seasonal flu shots and updated COVID-19 boosters, experts are urging Americans to get both, and many say October is the best time.
While experts say October can be an ideal window to boost immunity, they also stress the importance of getting vaccinated, period, whenever you can. According to experts, it is safe for people to get both shots during the same visit for greater convenience.
The White House’s COVID-19 coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, told ABC News that the best time to get a newly updated COVID-19 booster is “no later than the end of October for maximum protection “, which aligns with flu vaccination timing recommendations.
The “golden moment” for the flu shot is also October, said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. However, anyone who gets the vaccine in September should expect protection during the flu season, which usually lasts until spring.
“I think my general advice is, get it [when] it’s convenient,” Chin-Hong said.
Experts also say not to worry if you can’t get your flu shot before Halloween.
“If for whatever reason you can’t get a flu shot at the end of October, it’s not too late,” said Dr. Alok Patel, a pediatrician at Stanford Children’s Health and an ABC News medical contributor.
Bad flu season on the horizon?
Some experts predict that the seasonal flu virus, after two years of mild activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to be back in force this season.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a typical pre-pandemic year would see about 8% of the U.S. population sick with the flu. Deaths may exceed 50,000, as they did last season in the 2017-2018 season.
The people most at risk of serious illness from the flu are the elderly and the immunocompromised.
“What we are concerned about, of course, is the elderly, over 65. They represent about 15-17% of the population, but 80% of the population. [flu] deaths and hospitalizations,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
But even young, otherwise healthy people benefit from the flu shot, which also reduces the risk of spreading the virus to others.
“Lower risk doesn’t mean no risk. By getting vaccinated, you actually reduce the likelihood that you’ll be the dreaded spreader,” Schaffner said.
Meanwhile, getting sick with the flu can not only put a damper on vacation plans, but often causes unwanted symptoms that last for several days.
“For anyone who has gotten the flu, it’s definitely not a walk in the park,” Chin-Hong said.
Getting vaccinated in October or early November is ideal because “[you want] your annual vaccination extends throughout the winter, even from February to March and even into April,” Schaffner said.
“The only other kind of change with timing might be for people who are pregnant,” Chin-Hong said. She explained that pregnant women may want to try getting a flu shot before delivery, which allows the newborn to benefit from the mother’s antibodies, especially given that infants under 6 months old cannot be vaccinated .
Experts say flu shots may be especially important for children this year, given concerns about how easing pandemic-era restrictions may affect children.
“With schools reopening, COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted and children have returned to their normal lives. [they] are at risk of catching the flu this year,” Patel said. “Parents shouldn’t generalize the flu as a common cold. Thousands of children are hospitalized each year for influenza with young infants and children with underlying medical conditions at highest risk.”
Updated COVID-19 boosters can also become annual doses
The Food and Drug Administration recently authorized the first updated COVID-19 booster shots—the first major update to the COVID-19 vaccines. As protection against COVID-19 slowly fades over time, the White House has previously stated that variant-specific COVID-19 vaccines may also become an annual reality, similar to vaccines against the seasonal flu.
The new COVID-19 boosters are designed to be a better match to the currently circulating variants of COVID-19 and are currently licensed for all people 12 years of age and older who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 at least two months People previously infected with COVID may also consider waiting 90 days before receiving their booster shot, according to the CDC. Approval of updated boosters for younger children is expected “within a few weeks,” according to Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s group responsible for ensuring vaccine safety and effectiveness.
While it’s unclear if there will be another spike in COVID-19 this fall, more than 350 people are still dying from COVID-19 every day. Compared to young adults, those over the age of 65 are 60 times more likely to die from COVID-19, according to the CDC. The death rate is 340 times higher for those over 85.
Is it safe to get the COVID booster and flu shot at the same time?
Experts say getting the COVID booster and flu shot at the same time won’t weaken the body’s immune ability to fight either virus.
“If you give the body two signals, it won’t do less [immunity] because it’s focusing on another signal,” Chin-Hong said.
Although children under 12 are not yet eligible for the new booster shots, many still receive their original COVID-19 vaccines, which are licensed for children 6 months and older.
Similar to the guidance for adults, pediatricians say it’s safe to give young children COVID-19 and flu shots at the same doctor’s visit.
“It may even be a more convenient option for busy parents,” Patel added.
Youri Benadjaoud is an MPH candidate at Brown University and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.