Flu Shots and COVID-19: What Millennials Need to Know This Winter

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By: Melissa Schenkman, MPH, MSJ

What concerns you more? The flu or COVID-19? For many millennials, it’s both.  

More often than not, millennials are finding themselves taken by surprise that they have COVID-19 after having symptoms and trying to figure out how to determine which virus, if any, they actually have.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

I personally know a few millennials who have had what appeared to be a terrible head cold or a bad sinus infection, and turn out to be positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, a friend of mine who was exceptionally tired and sick with sinusitis and a cough, thought she had COVID-19, but ended up being diagnosed with a very bad case of the flu.

Although the flu and COVID-19 are respiratory viruses that can present with some of the very same symptoms, the two are completely different viruses. They differ in terms of how easily they can be passed from one person to another, how long they last in your system, and how long it will take you to recover.

Even though we are on our second flu season of the COVID-19 pandemic, between figuring out if our symptoms are something to worry about and navigating the timing of booster shots as we become eligible, there is still a lot to learn about how to live our lives in this ‘new normal.

Minji Kang, MD, has a background in infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship.

Minji Kang, MD, a fellow millennial and Associate Medical Director of Infection Prevention at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, points out that for millennials who have had COVID-19 since last flu season, COVID-19 does not protect against the flu, so you should still receive your annual flu shot. It’s one of many myths out there that Kang hopes to dispel.

Similarly, she says, the flu vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19 so you should still receive your COVID-19 vaccine if you have not been vaccinated yet. 

Two Shots, One Season

For millennials who have autoimmune conditions or who are immunocompromised for other reasons, this flu season presents a new twist as we become eligible for COVID-19 booster shots.

What should your plan be for timing both of these shots as you consider the potential side effects of each?

Technically, people can now get their flu shot at the same time as their COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot. Side effects from both shots include soreness, redness, and swelling where the shot was given, a headache, low grade fever and chills, muscle aches, and fatigue. 

Other than a sore arm and redness etc. at the injection site, all very common, whether or not you have any of the other side effects and which ones you have are hard to predict as everyone’s body reacts differently.

“If you are concerned about feeling lousy after receiving both shots at the same time, you can space out the COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot, but this is purely personal preference.”

-Minji Kang, MD

Know Your Facts

When it comes down to it, the benefits of protection from the flu far outweigh the risks of side effects of the flu shot and the small amount of time you have to put aside to go get it. As you think about rolling up your sleeve this fall, Kang says there are three core things millennials should know about the flu shot:

1. The flu vaccine does not cause the flu. The shot is made from inactivated, or killed, virus, so it cannot transmit the flu. 

2. You need to receive the flu shot every year. One reason: Because your immune protection from the vaccine declines with time. Also, the vaccine is updated every year based on the strains of the virus that have been in circulation most recently, so last year’s vaccine will not cover you for this year’s strains.

3. Flu shots are available at many places—your doctor’s office, urgent care centers, local hospitals, pharmacies and stores.

To find more information on the flu shot that is relevant to those of us in our 20s, 30s, and now age 40, view our Flu Season page.

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