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Should I get a flu vaccine this season? How is it different from COVID-19?

This article was updated on April 23, 2024

Getting a flu vaccine is highly recommended for most individuals each flu season. The flu vaccine helps protect against influenza viruses, which can cause a range of symptoms from mild to severe illness, and in some cases, hospitalization or death. Here are some key points to consider about the flu vaccine and how it differs from COVID-19:

  1. Importance of Flu Vaccine: Getting a flu vaccine is important for several reasons. It helps reduce the risk of getting the flu and spreading it to others, particularly those who may be more vulnerable to complications, such as older adults, young children, pregnant individuals, and people with certain underlying health conditions. The flu vaccine can also help reduce the burden on healthcare systems by preventing flu-related hospitalizations and medical visits.
  2. Annual Vaccination: The flu vaccine is updated annually to protect against the strains of influenza viruses that are expected to circulate during the upcoming flu season. It's recommended to get vaccinated each year, ideally before the start of flu season, which typically peaks between December and February in the Northern Hemisphere.
  3. Effectiveness: The effectiveness of the flu vaccine can vary from year to year depending on factors such as the match between the vaccine and circulating flu strains, the age and health status of the individual, and how well the vaccine stimulates the immune system. Despite variations in effectiveness, the flu vaccine still provides important protection against the flu and its complications.
  4. Side Effects: Like any vaccine, the flu vaccine can cause side effects, such as soreness at the injection site, mild fever, or fatigue. Serious side effects are rare. Most people tolerate the flu vaccine well and experience minimal or no side effects.
  5. COVID-19 Comparison: While the flu and COVID-19 are both respiratory illnesses caused by viruses, they are caused by different viruses and have distinct characteristics. COVID-19 is caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, while the flu is caused by influenza viruses (typically influenza A and influenza B). COVID-19 has a higher risk of severe illness and death compared to the flu, particularly among older adults and individuals with certain underlying health conditions.
  6. COVID-19 and the flu have many symptoms in common, including:
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Tiredness
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting, but this is more common in children than in adults
  • The signs and symptoms of both diseases can range from no symptoms to mild or severe symptoms. Because COVID-19 and the flu have similar symptoms, it can be hard to diagnose which condition you have based on your symptoms alone. Testing may be done to see if you have COVID-19 or the flu. You also can have both diseases at the same time.
  1. Prevention Measures: While vaccination is an important preventive measure for both the flu and COVID-19, there are additional measures that can help reduce the risk of transmission, such as wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, washing hands frequently, and staying home when sick.

In summary, getting a flu vaccine is important for protecting yourself and others from the flu and its complications, particularly during the flu season. While the flu vaccine is different from the COVID-19 vaccine, both vaccines play important roles in reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses and protecting public health. It's advisable to follow recommendations from healthcare providers and public health authorities regarding vaccination and preventive measures for both the flu and COVID-19.

Source: Mayo Clinic

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This article was written and edited by the Tayo editorial desk and has been reviewed by an independent panel of subject matter experts.

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