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Flu and COVID vaccines - Dr. Fiona Smaill
Flu season is here – but COVID isn’t over yet. Infectious diseases specialist and microbiologist, Dr. Fiona Smaill, answers questions about the flu and COVID vaccines.
November 10, 2021

Can you get the flu and COVID vaccines together — plus other FAQs

Can I get both vaccines at the same time?

For adults, both the COVID vaccine and influenza vaccine can be given at the same time. There’s no concern about increased side effects from both vaccines nor are there any concerns about them not working as well. You may get a sore arm from both but overall side effects are very minimal with both of these vaccines. They’re both very safe.

For children 5-11, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the Ontario Ministry of Health recommend spacing out the COVID vaccine from other vaccines by two weeks out of an abundance of caution to track side effects more easily.

Does the vaccine for one virus protect against the other virus?

COVID-19 and influenza are two very different respiratory viruses. The vaccine against COVID will not protect against influenza. The vaccine against influenza will not protect against COVID. We really are recommending that you be vaccinated against both viruses to protect you, your family, and your community.

How do I know if I have the flu or COVID?

Symptoms of COVID and influenza are very similar: fever, headache, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches. So based on symptoms alone you cannot differentiate the flu from COVID and sometimes even from other respiratory viruses. We see respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), we see parainfluenza, we see other causes, rhinovirus, many respiratory viruses all cause the same type of symptoms. As a result I expect we’re going to have to do more testing. Anybody with symptoms would be advised to stay at home and then be tested as as guided by public health.

Should I vaccinate my child?

Vaccinating children for influenza is probably one of the most important things we can do. Children are very prone to influenza. There are serious consequences of influenza in children albeit rare, but children are often the source of influenza to those adults and particularly older people around them. The vaccine is available free for anyone over the age of six months so I would encourage everybody – parents, grandparents – to encourage vaccination of children as one of the best things we can do in our community.

“Vaccinating children for influenza is probably one of the most important things we can do.”

Is the flu shot safe for people who are pregnant?

Pregnant people are more at risk of severe complications from both influenza and COVID and we’ve seen reports of more severe disease in pregnant people. So if there’s one thing that pregnant people can do to both safeguard their own health as well as the health of their newborn baby, it is to be vaccinated against both of these quite serious respiratory viruses.

The vaccine is safe in pregnancy. Particularly with influenza, if a person has been immunized, the likelihood of their newborn baby getting influenza in the first six months of life is reduced. And of course influenza in a young infant can be a very serious illness as well.

Vaccination is one of the most important steps along with public health measures — that we’re really becoming used to — such as hand washing or using hand hygiene, masking when it’s appropriate, and avoiding large crowds. But vaccination remains a hallmark of protection against influenza.

As the flu season approaches, it is really vital that we protect both ourselves, our patients, our families, and our community from influenza as well as COVID. The best way to do that is to make sure that you’ve had your vaccine and encourage vaccination in others.

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