Your biggest questions about flu shots and COVID – answered
Learn how to protect yourself and your family from getting sick this winter.
Remember when we just had colds and the flu to worry about each winter? With COVID-19 showing no signs of disappearing, we now have to prepare for all three. But don’t worry – there are plenty of steps you can take to help protect yourself and your family.
One of the best things you can do: Get an annual flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine or booster. It’s even safe to get both at the same time (no extra trips to the doctor or pharmacy required). And most Blue Shield and Blue Shield Promise plans provide coverage for both at no cost to you. Here are answers to your biggest questions about the flu and COVID-19 – and other preventive steps that can keep you healthy and safe.
How are the flu and COVID-19 different?
Both are contagious respiratory infections that spread through the air. But they’re caused by different viruses. The flu is caused by one of many influenza viruses, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. They’re both highly contagious, especially in winter, when many activities and people are inside. Both viruses spread when people who are sick sneeze, cough, breathe, or talk.
Will a flu shot protect you from getting COVID-19?
No. “The COVID vaccine does not protect you against the flu. And the flu vaccine does not protect you against COVID,” says James Cruz, MD. He’s the chief medical officer for Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan. You need both shots to be protected.
What’s important to know about the flu?
There are a few important things to remember. First, the flu can be serious for everyone. People with the highest chance of getting very sick from the flu include those who are pregnant, children under 2, those 65 and older, and people with asthma, diabetes, cancer, or COPD. “And having a history of heart disease, stroke, or chronic kidney disease can also make flu complications more likely,” says Dr. Cruz. “But even healthy people can get it.”
And when you’re down with the flu, you’re bound to miss out on a lot. Work, school, and caring for your kids and even yourself can be pretty difficult. Getting your vaccine can give you peace of mind and increase your chances that you’ll be able to keep up with your responsibilities and do all the things you love to do.
Another important reason: “Your shot helps protect everyone around you,” Dr. Cruz adds. That includes your newborn niece and 85-year-old grandma.
The best time to get the shot is September or October. Before then, the vaccine’s power may wear off before the end of the season (especially for older folks).
Ready to get your shot? Search for flu shot locations near you.
But can’t you still get the flu even if you’ve been vaccinated?
Yes, it’s possible. No vaccine is 100% effective. “But if you do happen to get the flu, you most likely won’t get as sick,” says Dr. Cruz. Here’s what to do if you get infected:
- Stay home
- Ask your health care provider for antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate), which comes in pills or liquid form. (Antiviral medications work best if you take them in the first two days and can cut symptoms short by a day.)
- Take pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- Drink clear liquids (water or broth)
- Get lots of rest
What should I know about COVID-19 vaccines?
Everyone 6 months and older can get vaccinated. You can choose between Moderna, Pfizer, and Novovax. (The Johnson & Johnson vaccine should be considered only in some cases, says the CDC.) Ask your doctor which shot is best for you.
It’s important to keep up with your boosters (or get your first shot if you haven’t yet). The CDC recommends boosters for everyone age 5 and up. Adults 50 or older should get a second booster. Some people 12 and older who are immunocompromised may also need a second booster.
The good news: Updated boosters that target today’s most common variants (B.5 and B.4) are now available for certain groups. Doses made by Pfizer are for anyone 12 and older. Moderna’s updated boosters are for people 18 and older.
If you get sick and suspect you have COVID-19, you can test yourself at home. There are many ways to get over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 tests. You can buy them at a pharmacy or online or pick them up from a community health center. Most of these tests are covered or can be reimbursed by your Blue Shield or Blue Shield Promise plan. But it’s best to review your coverage before purchasing.
Call your doctor right away if you test positive. Your provider can monitor your symptoms and get you the right treatment. If you’re at high risk for severe COVID-19, your doctor may recommend Paxlovid. This is an antiviral pill you take at home that is designed to stop the virus from multiplying in the body. It’s authorized for people who are 12 and older and weigh at least 88 pounds.
Is it really safe to get both shots at the same time?
Yes, it really is. “I can even tell you personally I did that,” says Dr. Cruz. “It is safe and effective to get both at the same time. You get your COVID vaccine in one arm and your flu shot in the other.” You may feel a little run-down after the shots, Dr. Cruz says. And both of your arms may be sore after. But those symptoms shouldn’t last more than a day or two.
Are there other steps I can take to stay healthy this fall?
Yes. Here are some smart everyday steps that can help you avoid getting sick from the flu, COVID-19, or run-of-the-mill colds.
Wash your hands every time you come home. Lather up and scrub for 20 seconds (sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice). Then rinse your hands under running water. The temperature doesn’t really matter. If you’re not near a sink, keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol nearby for cleaning hands.
Cover your cough or sneeze. Wear a mask if you’re sick. Also be sure to use a tissue (then toss it) or your elbow when coughing and sneezing. Covering up your mouth with your hand makes it easy to transfer germs to anything you might touch afterward.
Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. They’re good entry points for viruses. This is especially important when you’re out and about or haven’t washed your hands.
Develop healthy habits. Staying active through moderate exercise, eating a healthy diet, getting at least seven hours of sleep a night, and quitting smoking (or don’t start), are all things that can help your body fight germs.
Eligible Blue Shield members can sign up for Wellvolution®. This online program offers tools and support to keep you healthy. Wellvolution programs can help members lose weight, manage diabetes, stop smoking, lower stress, and much more.
Wellvolution is a registered trademark of Blue Shield of California. Wellvolution and all associated digital and in-person health programs, services, and offerings are managed by Solera, Inc. These program services are not a covered benefit of Blue Shield health plans and none of the terms or conditions of Blue Shield health plans apply. Blue Shield reserves the right to terminate this program at any time without notice.
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