With the COVID-19 pandemic still going as the country enters flu season, public health experts are urging Americans to get the flu vaccine – with some precautions.
Doctors say getting the shot is safe so long as people follow protocols to prevent exposure to the coronavirus while they’re out getting it.
“The precautions people should take to get their flu shot are the same precautions when you run other essential errands,” Dr. Martine Hackett, a public health professor at Hofstra University, told The Post.
“When you go out, make sure you’re wearing a mask and make sure you’re able to social distance.”
Here is what the experts have to say on questions and concerns about getting the shot while staying safe from COVID-19.
Could the flu vaccine lower your immune system and make you more vulnerable to COVID-19?
Any fears about the vaccination making the immune system weaker and more susceptible to contracting the virus are unfounded, doctors said.
“The immune system is being stimulated to make antibodies, so it’s a very different response,” said Dr. Sandra Kesh, an infectious disease specialist at Westmed Medical Group.
Doctors also stress that the vaccine doesn’t give anyone the flu – and that any symptoms that may pop up after are the result of an overactive immune system.
“There is still this myth that you’ll get flu from the flu vaccine, which is total baloney,” said Dr. Willaim Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
“A few people – about 1 percent – get a fever. That’s not the flu, that’s the body working already on the vaccine,” he said.
What happens if someone gets a flu shot while infected with COVID-19?
There’s no evidence that someone who unknowingly has the virus when they get the flu shot will end up with a worse COVID-19 case, experts said.
Otherwise-healthy patients suffering from mild colds often still get the shot, Kesh noted.
“We don’t see it being a problem. We don’t see people even getting a worse cold,” Kesh said, though she added doctors might not administer the shot when a patient’s immune system is too weak for it to “take” and be effective.
Some believe the flu shot and other vaccinations may even potentially help ward off the coronavirus.
“If anything, there’s a theory out that other vaccines might actually provide a stimulus of your immune system and it might be better off to fight off the virus,” Schaffner said.
Schaffner noted the theory has not been proven, but “there are flu vaccine trials to try to provide nonspecific immune enhancement as protection against the virus.”
Who should get vaccinated for the flu during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Everyone above the age of 6 months should get the flu vaccine, including people who are older than 65, are pregnant or have underlying illnesses, doctors said.
Experts noted that the shots will be important in helping prevent health care systems from being overwhelmed with flu patients while also potentially battling a second wave of the virus.
“We all should get [the flu shot] because this year we will be dealing with flu and COVID and the two illnesses present clinically in a similar fashion and doctors will be stressed to find out which is which,” Schaffner added.