Right now, only about 57 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But with vaccine mandates taking effect for schools and businesses in places like California and New York, more people are going to be getting the COVID-19 vaccine very soon. Also, a lot of people may be getting COVID-19 booster shots now, as well.
At the same time, we’re heading into flu season. This means doctors are urging their regular patients to get their flu shots — and it very well may coincide with their COVID-19 vaccine. And that raises a lot of questions as to how the two vaccines might interact, whether they’ll be less effective or cause unexpected side effects.
While some vaccines can be taken simultaneously, like the flu and pneumococcal vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccines haven’t been around long enough for researchers to be sure about the possibility of adverse reactions when taken with another vaccine. So, investigators based in the United Kingdom did a study to see whether taking both the flu and a COVID-19 shot at once was safe, or if there needed to be a delay between shots.
COVID-19 and flu vaccines: perfect together
Thankfully, the U.K. study found it was perfectly safe for people to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, and that neither vaccine lost any effectiveness when taken simultaneously.
The study tested three influenza vaccines and two vaccines for COVID-19, for a total of six vaccine combinations. The 675 participants were all over the age of 18, had already received one dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and were awaiting their second dose.
Each participant was randomly assigned to one of two groups. One received their second COVID-19 vaccine dose and the flu vaccine during their first study visit, then a saline injection as placebo on their second visit. The other group received their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and the placebo injection on the first visit and the flu vaccine on the second visit.
All participants were required to make a third visit to give a final blood sample and discuss any side effects they experienced after their second appointment.
According to the results, there was no negative impact on the immune responses to either vaccine when they were given at the same time.
The participants receiving the COVID-19 and flu vaccines together in opposite arms reported only mild to moderate side effects. The most common were pain at the injection site and fatigue, both of which can be experienced when taking each vaccine separately.
The vast majority (97 percent) of participants say they would be willing to get two vaccines in the same appointment in the future. “This is a really positive step which could mean fewer appointments for those who require both vaccines, reducing the burden on those who have underlying health conditions and would usually be offered the influenza vaccine,” says Dr. Rajeka Lazarus, chief investigator for the study.
Lazarus adds the results of the study will aid policymakers in future planning of these vaccination programs.
Should you “prepare” for your vaccination?
There has been some confusion about what exactly you need to do, if anything, to prepare for your COVID-19 vaccination.
For instance, fears of a potential allergic reaction have led some to believe it’s a good idea to pre-medicate with an antihistamine like Benadryl before getting their COVID-19 shot. But health experts warn against that.
Though pre-dosing with antihistamines could potentially reduce some of the symptoms of a severe reaction, it could make it harder for staff at the vaccine site to diagnose the allergic response, meaning a potentially dangerous delay in treatment.
Instead, if you do have a history of allergic reactions to any medications or vaccine components, be sure to provide that information before they administer the vaccine. They should ask you about any potential allergies, but there’s nothing wrong with speaking up first.
At the same time, if you regularly take medications for allergies or other conditions, experts say you shouldn’t stop them before your vaccine. Just be sure to tell the medical personal what medications you are on. If it helps, make a list of medications and the dosages you take and bring it with you.
When I got my COVID-19 vaccine, I told the clinic staff I was allergic to penicillin, so the nurses kept an extra-close eye on me for 30 minutes after my shot to make sure I didn’t have any reaction to it.
Another belief is that taking a pain reliever like ibuprofen, acetaminophen or aspirin right before you get vaccinated will help reduce the severity of side effects like fever and muscle aches. This isn’t a good idea either because there is a chance these medications could interfere with the vaccine’s effectiveness. Also, these medicines could bring on an allergic reaction to the vaccine.
Doctors recommend holding off on taking any over-the-counter pain relievers until at least two hours after you’ve been vaccinated. After that, it’s safe to use these medicines to help relieve any post-vaccination aches and pains you may have.
There are a few things you can do to help prepare for both the COVID-19 and flu vaccines to increase your chances of a strong immune response with minimal adverse reactions:
Stay hydrated. Make sure you drink plenty of water before and after you get vaccinated. And since alcoholic beverages can be dehydrating, you shouldn’t drink any for 24 hours before and after getting vaccinated. Another good reason to avoid alcohol is that it can accelerate any vaccine-related allergic reactions.
No strenuous exercise (or hot showers). Exercising too vigorously before your vaccination isn’t a good idea because of the strain it can put on your body. And both vigorous exercise and hot showers can trigger an allergic reaction in some people. Therefore, health experts advise avoiding both strenuous exercise and hot showers two hours before and after getting your shot.
Finally, following vaccination, plan to get a good night’s sleep and take the next day easy. Even a mild reaction of body aches and low-grade fever can make you feel wiped out. So don’t overdo it while the vaccine is doing its thing.
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Vaccinations by location — Our World in Data (via Google)