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As the seasons change, we find ourselves entering another flu season with COVID-19 still present in our communities. Respiratory illnesses spread more rapidly in the colder fall and winter months, so now is the ideal time to protect yourself from both viruses by getting vaccinated. Even if you received a COVID-19 booster shot previously, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration just authorized new COVID-19 vaccines that target the variants predicted to be most active this season.

Our team at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare (TMH) has broken down what you need to know about the flu and COVID-19 vaccines and how to protect yourself and your family against both illnesses.

Flu Vaccines

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months and older get the flu vaccine, with some rare exceptions. It’s especially important that those most at risk to develop serious complications from the flu get the vaccine, including people ages 65 and older, pregnant mothers and people with pre-existing conditions that weaken their immune systems or compromise their respiratory systems.

Even if you’re considered healthy, the flu vaccine can “save you a lot of headaches” – literally. Getting the shot has been shown to prevent an estimated 7.5 million flu illnesses, 3.7 million medical visits, 105,000 hospitalizations and over 6,300 flu-associated deaths. Being vaccinated also reduces the severity of symptoms if you do still catch the flu.

With flu season beginning to ramp up, we recommend that you get the shot before the end of October, as it takes two weeks to reach maximum antibody protection. If you miss that deadline, don’t sweat it – it’s still worth it. Getting the flu shot at any point during flu season provides more protection than not getting it at all.

The CDC has a comprehensive guide outlining each of the available vaccines and who is eligible to receive each. You should also talk to your physician about which vaccine is best for your unique needs.

New COVID-19 Vaccines

The flu vaccine isn’t the only way to protect yourself from respiratory illness this fall and winter. The CDC is also urging people to get one of the new COVID-19 vaccines, especially if you are in a high risk category. Like prior vaccines and booster shots, this vaccine may not entirely prevent you from catching COVID-19, but it could reduce severe illness and prevent hospitalization and long-term complications.

The new COVID-19 vaccine is now part of an annual vaccine schedule, similar to the flu shot, and is no longer considered a “booster” shot. This year’s COVID-19 vaccines target an Omicron subvariant called XBB.1.5, which is predicted to be the most widespread virus for the U.S. this season.

The FDA has approved two types of vaccines, an mRNA formula, available for individuals 6 months of age and older, and a protein subunit formula for individuals 12 years of age and older. The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get the vaccine. Not sure which vaccine choice is best for you? Talk to your physician.

If you’ve recently recovered from the virus, you’ll likely have strong natural immunity for at least the next 90 days and can wait three months from the onset of symptoms (or your first positive test if you had no symptoms) to receive the new vaccine.

Side effects for the COVID-19 vaccine are common but considered mostly mild and typically go away after a few days. If you’re experiencing discomfort following your vaccine, talk to your doctor about taking a pain reliever. It’s important to know that even if you don’t experience side effects, you can rest assured that the vaccine is still protecting you.

Can You Pair the Vaccines?

Now for the question on everyone’s minds: Can you knock both shots out at once? Yes!

Getting the flu and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time is convenient, safe and will not impact the effectiveness of either. You can streamline your vaccines and consolidate potential side effects by getting one shot in each arm. While you may be more likely to experience side effects from the vaccines if you receive them together, they’ll likely be mild.

If you’ve recently had COVID-19 or have decided not to get this vaccine, don’t wait to get the flu shot. The sooner you get it, the more protected you’ll be as cases begin to spread over the coming months.

You can decide whether pairing the vaccines or getting them separately is best for you – the most important part is that you get them.

Where to Get the Vaccines

Many primary care offices, including pediatricians, are offering both the flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine. If yours is not, or if you don’t have a primary care provider, vaccines are also widely available at local pharmacies and health departments.

Find the vaccine location closest to you at vaccines.gov.

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Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare

Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare is a private, not-for-profit community healthcare system committed to transforming care, advancing health, and improving lives with an ultimate vision of leading the community to be the healthiest in the nation.