Getting a COVID-19 and Flu Vaccine at the Same Time
The coming winter months may prove challenging as people grapple with illness and the lingering COVID pandemic. As people continue their holiday shopping and get together with loved ones, viral infections will be in full force. Given the lack of social distancing and uptick in viruses, most public health experts warn about a tripledemic, which they define as a simultaneous surge of COVID-19, the flu, and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus).
To more efficiently safeguard your health this winter, consider getting a COVID shot and a flu vaccine simultaneously. Because no RSV vaccine exists, you can supplement the dual vaccinations by resuming masking when you are more vulnerable to infection. Here is what you should know as we approach a potential tripledemic.
What Is the Tripledemic?
The tripledemic refers to the combined surge of COVID-19, influenza, and RSV rapidly spreading in the United States. This triple threat of viral illnesses could make this winter one of the worst the country has seen in decades, accounting for soaring hospitalization rates.
Although it is typically a disease primarily affecting children, RSV has infected more adults than it typically does. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RSV is responsible for adult hospitalization rates 10 times higher than in previous years. Although RSV typically causes symptoms similar to the common cold, some adults need more serious care if they get quite ill.
COVID-19 remains a threat, even as more people get vaccinated and boosted against the illness. The United States is seeing increases in COVID cases and hospitalizations. At this time, several variants of the omicron B.A.1 exist and require booster vaccines for continued protection. Although COVID-related deaths are not on the rise as in previous years, older adults are at increased risk for severe illness and death.
Of the three infections comprising the tripledemic, the flu has caused the most significant rise in cases, deaths, and hospitalizations in the past few weeks. The CDC reports that the post-Thanksgiving surges in flu were higher than in entire previous flu seasons.
People living in certain regions in the United States may be more susceptible to the tripledemic, based partly on temperature patterns. RSV, COVID, and the flu pose more significant threats in colder areas where people are more likely to gather indoors in smaller spaces with poor air circulation. Another factor affecting the intensity of the tripledemic is vaccination rates, which tend to be lower for COVID in the Mountain and Southern states.
The anticipated tripledemic is expected to put undue strain on the country’s healthcare system. In particular, the rising cases are contributing to a shortage of cold medicinesand hospital beds. Furthermore, the dwindling number of healthcare providers only adds to the strain on healthcare facilities, even in hospitals with available beds.
COVID and Flu Vaccination
Public health experts encourage everyone to prepare for the upcoming triple surge by taking vital steps to protect themselves. One of the most effective ways to prevent severe illness and slow the spread is to vaccinate against COVID-19 and the flu. There is currently no RSV vaccine, although researchers are working on developing one.
According to the CDC, most people can simultaneously get a COVID and flu shot. Providers often give these two shots at the same time, and the co-administration of these vaccines can help people save time and cut down on clinic visits. Co-administration is generally safe, although it can cause an 8 to 11 percent increase in mild symptoms such as fatigue, headache, and muscle aches.
If you plan on getting the COVID and flu vaccines in the same visit, the CDC recommends getting both shots at least one inch apart on the same arm or on different arms. If you get a high-dose flu vaccine, you might consider getting the COVID shot in the other arm to reduce the potential side effects. There is no recommended waiting time if you would prefer to get the vaccines at different times.
In addition to getting COVID and flu shots, other safety measures are essential in slowing the spread of viral infections and preventing severe illness. For instance, do not automatically assume that everyone you come in contact with is healthy if they do not present symptoms. If you know that you or someone else is sick, avoid contact with others and large gatherings.
At this time, it would be unwise to write off masks as relics of the past. During this tripledemic, these viruses will likely be very contagious. Masks with the N95 certification effectively lower the rate of viral transmission. Public health officials recommend that people in areas with high rates of infection wear a mask indoors unless they are under the age of two. You can check the CDC to find out the risk level in your area.
Public health educators and officials need to carefully consider their mask-related messaging. Health experts confirm that people generally want to have a choice over whether they put on a mask. Therefore, messages may resonate more if they present masking as more of a decision than a mandate. Also, local and state governments can make masks more available to the public and accommodate individuals who might forget to supply their own masks.
Research and materials for this article were compiled, written, and distributed on behalf of the National Public Health Information Coalition. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the various authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Public Health Information Coalition or its members.