Is It Safe to Get Both the Flu Shot and the COVID-19 Vaccine?

With flu season approaching as COVID-19 vaccination efforts continue, an expert explains why getting both a flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine is safe.

side by side image of vials of flu vaccine and covid vaccine.

This year, flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines are both widely available, leading some people to wonder: Is it safe to get both shots?

“I get emails every day from patients asking about getting both a flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine,” says Dr. Keith Roach, an associate attending physician with NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “I tell them all the same thing: There’s very good data to show that both vaccines are safe, and no reason to avoid getting them both around the same time.”

Last year, the U.S. saw very little flu, due largely to the measures put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus, including masking, distancing, and hand hygiene. But health authorities are concerned that the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and a lack of immunity from the flu last year could lead to a worse-than-usual flu season.

Dr. Keith Roach

Dr. Keith Roach

“I particularly recommend the flu vaccine this year,” says Dr. Roach. “Early flu and early COVID can look a whole lot alike, and that means a lot of worry for everybody, and maybe some necessity for quarantining patients and family members. It would be better to avoid it in the first place by having increased immunity against both flu and COVID.”

Health Matters spoke with Dr. Roach, who is also an associate professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, to learn more about the safety of getting both a flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine, what we might expect from this year’s flu season, and the best time to get the shots.

Are there any health risks to getting the flu vaccine at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine?
No. When the COVID-19 vaccine first came out in December of 2020, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended against getting any other vaccine within two weeks before or after the COVID-19 vaccine. They were being extra careful to ensure that nothing interfered with the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, but they rescinded that guidance because there was no good evidence to support it. We already give people multiple vaccines at the same time. Our bodies can certainly handle all of the antigens in these vaccines without any trouble.

This year, you can get both the flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine. You may experience more side effects if you do both at the same time. And that’s why splitting them up, if you’re nervous about the side effects, is reasonable. It usually takes three or four days after the COVID-19 vaccine before the arm soreness and other mild reactions are gone, so you can plan to get your flu vaccine a couple of days after the COVID-19 shot if you don’t want to get them on the same day.

When is the best time to get the flu vaccine?
The ideal time to get the flu shot is somewhere in the range of late September to end of November. And the absolute ideal is probably between mid-October and mid-November. And that’s because in New York the flu season typically begins toward mid-to-late December. We know that the flu shot takes about two weeks for it to start working, so this way you’ll be well protected by the time flu season starts.

What about people who are immunocompromised or elderly and are eligible for a third COVID-19 shot? Should they have any safety concerns about getting both vaccines?
No, they should absolutely get them both. More than 6 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide and there haven’t been long-term side effects that we’ve seen. It’s a very effective and safe vaccine on its own or in combination with others.

Also, if you’re over 65, you can ask to get either the high-dose flu shot or the adjuvanted flu shot, which is going to be more effective for the people in that age group. If it’s not immediately available, go ahead and get the regular one so that you don’t miss getting your flu shot in time.

“There’s very good data to show that both vaccines are safe, and no reason to avoid getting them both around the same time.”

— Dr. Keith Roach

For children who may be due for other typical childhood vaccines, are there any risks of getting everything at once?
No, there aren’t. Your child may start getting somewhat additive side effects, meaning the likelihood of having a little bit of headache, muscle aches, low-grade fever for a day is going to go up a little bit. But getting them all at once gets them all out of the way, and they’ll be protected against all of those things as quickly as possible.

If your child isn’t eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine yet, get the flu vaccine because that’s going to provide a protection against at least the flu part of it. And then when the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available for 5- to 11-year-olds, go and get that as soon as possible.

What can we expect for the upcoming flu season considering the low flu activity last year?
There is still going to be more masking, more social distancing, more hand hygiene, and more being careful this year than in most years, but schools are open, and lots of schools throughout the country have no particular mandates for kids in terms of vaccination, masks, and social distancing rules. And influenza, as an epidemic disease, is typically started by kids. So even if the adults may be being careful, this could be a big year for the flu because it’s going to be generated by kids who are going to come home and give it to their parents.

There’s also a second issue — because virtually nobody got the flu last year, there’s not a lot of immunity to the circulating strains. Many authorities are worried that this year could be a bad year for the flu because there’s a lot less immunity in the population.

What do you say to reassure your patients that it’s safe to get both a flu shot and COVID-19 vaccination?
I tell them the truth, that I’m doing it myself. I had my third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine this fall, and I’ll get the flu vaccine in early October, just the way that I recommend for my patients to do. And I’ve gotten my flu vaccine every year for 35 consecutive years. We have a wealth of safety data on the influenza vaccine.

I get a lot of people asking me, “If it’s only 40% or 50% effective, why should I bother with it?” And the answer is: Any protection is better than none. Before COVID-19, during flu season in January and February, sometimes half or more of the medical ICU was people with influenza and pneumonia. Flu shots give you even more protection from bad complications of flu.

Additional Resources

  • Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine.

    Schedule to get a COVID-19 booster shot at NewYork-Presbyterian.

    Find out more about flu prevention, symptoms and treatment.