COVID-19 and flu vaccines

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By Kimberly Guzman, medical student at the California University of Science and Medicine in Colton.

The winter season has officially arrived and that usually means holiday lights, pumpkins, turkeys, and more! But what also comes around this time of the year is the annual flu shot. What’s more is the latest COVID-19 booster that just became available in September. With all these flu and COVID-19 vaccines, it can get a little confusing about what they are and why we need them. Luckily, we’re here to shed some light on these vaccines.

What is the COVID vaccine and its booster?

In general, vaccines activate one’s immune system so the body can recognize a specific virus. Once the body encounters the virus in the environment, it will know how to fight against it. However, viruses can change over time and create a different version from the original. Boosters help fight these mutated viruses.

For COVID, a booster is given once an individual completes their primary vaccine series. Pfizer and Moderna have recently introduced a “COVID-19 mRNA bivalent booster” to work against the Omicron variant of COVID-19. “Bivalent” refers to the booster’s ability to protect someone from both the original COVID-19 as well as the Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5. Even if someone may have already recovered from COVID-19, we still recommend getting the vaccine and its boosters to provide additional protection should reinfection occur.

Who is eligible for the booster and when should you get it?

These bivalent COVID boosters became available on September 2, 2022 for patients 5 years of age and older. The CDC suggests getting a bivalent booster 2 months after your last primary series dose, original booster, or any other COVID-19 booster1. If you recently had COVID-19, we recommend you wait about 3 months after symptom onset or first positive test result to receive the primary dose or booster.

Once someone completes their primary series of COVID-19 vaccines and gets the most recent booster, they are considered up-to-date. As of January 2022, only 54.5% of all eligible San Bernardino residents are fully vaccinated. Approximately 64% of all eligible San Bernardino residents have received any kind of COVID-19 vaccine. This falls short of California’s vaccination goal set at 75%2.

What are the side effects from the COVID-19 booster?

Some common side effects include mild to moderate fever, headaches, fatigue, and pain at the injection site3. To alleviate any pain or swelling, apply a cool, clean washcloth on the injection site. You may use or rest your arm depending on what helps more. For fevers, make sure to stay hydrated and dress in comfortable clothes. Consult with a physician if you are considering taking any over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen4.

What about the flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine specifically combats the influenza virus that causes the common flu. Since this virus mutates very frequently, a flu shot is created and distributed annually.

We recommend patients get the flu vaccine as soon as possible. Flu season commonly peaks in late fall or early winter, so getting the vaccine earlier can provide extra protection against the virus when it is strongest. The flu season in the Southern Hemisphere has reportedly been worse this year. As of October 9, 2022, there have been 225,332 laboratory-confirmed influenza cases in Australia, which is a lot more than in previous years5.

Although the number of flu cases has been lower over the past 2 years, this is likely due to quarantine and fewer social activities. As we return to frequent socializations, flu activity is expected to be higher.

Can I get both the COVID-19 booster and flu shot at the same time?

Yes, it is safe to get both simultaneously. However, the side effects of each vaccine could add up together. If possible, it may be more beneficial to give yourself some time in between the two so you do not feel too sick. Many pharmacies also offer the flu and Covid vaccines. Check with your local neighborhood pharmacy to see if they have them in stock as this may offer more convenience than waiting for an appointment

Hopefully this clears up any confusion regarding the COVID-19 booster and the flu vaccine. As always, we encourage you to reach out to your primary care provider for any other questions or explanations needed!