- This autumn, a freshly formulated flu vaccine, and an updated Omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccine are available.
- Some people wonder if one shot or the other is appropriate for them, but experts say people should generally receive both vaccines.
- Flu and COVID-19 vaccines are safe to receive together.
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It is that time of year. In many places, there is a chill in the air, and soon there will be dazzling colors.
It is also the season when updated influenza shots become available, and this year, the new bivalent COVID-19 vaccines targeting multiple SARS-CoV-2 strains are also being considered.
Each February, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) experts gather to predict the strains of flu most likely to be circulating in the following fall, and now freshly formulated, 2022-2023-specific, flu shots are available.
The two manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, have also been busy developing a new bivalent booster vaccine designed to adapt more readily to ever-changing Omicron strains of the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2. Both companies have now received FDA approval for their new vaccines.
Which one, or both, should you get?
We asked three experts to answer a few questions for us about this autumn’s vaccines. Our experts are:
- Dr. William Schaffner of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee
- Dr. Robert Kim-Farley of UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health in Los Angeles, California
- Dr. Amesh Adalja of Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland
Dr. Farley: “The bivalent Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is for individuals 18 years of age and older, whereas the bivalent Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is for individuals 12 years of age and older.”
Dr. Schaffner: “The win is, you’re eligible now, and so I would urge people to [get their COVID-19 booster].”
Dr. Adalja: “The people who would benefit most from an Omicron booster are those high-risk individuals who have never been boosted.”
Dr. Adalja: “If you fall into a high-risk category, you should not wait to be boosted.”
Dr. Schaffner and other experts pointed out the things you should be mindful of before receiving a COVID-19 booster:
- Wait at least two months after your last COVID-19 vaccine dose
- If you recently contracted the virus, the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)said you may consider waiting for three months from when your symptoms started or you first received a positive test.
Dr. Schaffner: “Now, there are some people who are thinking about this very carefully. For example, they have a trip planned sometime toward, let’s say, the beginning of November or end of October, and they’re planning to get their updated COVID vaccines two weeks before they take their trip.
[Whether this makes sense,] I think that a lot depends on who you are. If you’re younger and stronger, and don’t have any underlying illnesses, if your vaccine is otherwise up-to-date, you could consider that.
If you’re older, if you’re frail with underlying illnesses, if you have diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, if you are immune-compromised in any way, I would urge you to get it now, rather than put it off because there are risks in the community. These Omicron variants are still circulating briskly across the country.”
Dr. Schaffner: “The answer is, as they would say in Minnesota, ‘You bet!’
And there are a couple of reasons for this. Your COVID-19 vaccine will not protect against influenza, and the reverse is also true: Influenza vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19. They’re two separate viruses.
Influenza — and we may have to remind people of this — is another very serious winter respiratory virus.
It puts people in the same risk groups — older frail, underlying illnesses, immunocompromised — at increased risk of complications of influenza: pneumonia, hospitalization, and dying.”
Dr. Adalja: “Like is the case with every year, flu vaccination is also an important measure to take.”
Dr. Farley: “Yes, individuals should receive their annual flu vaccination this year, especially given that the formulation has changed to better match the anticipated circulating influenza viruses in the 2022-23 flu season.”
All three experts agreed that there is no difference between getting one or the other vaccine first and that they are safe to receive together.
Dr. Adalja: “As flu season has not really begun in the Northern Hemisphere, the [Omicron] booster is more important at this time.”
Dr. Schaffner: “There’s no contraindication for getting them at the same time. Some people will want to spread them out, simply because they don’t want two sore arms at the same time. In fact, I was just giving a lecture and one of my colleagues was there. He said just yesterday he got them both, in one arm and one in the other.”
Dr. Schaffner said he wanted to ease any concerns pregnant people may have about vaccines:
“Should pregnant women receive these two vaccines? The answer is an unqualified ‘yes.’ It’s so recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and [Gynecologists]. It’s clear from the data that both of these vaccines are safe during pregnancy.
We have data from influenza vaccine that [it] not only protects the mother, but some of those antibodies will cross the placenta and give the newborn protection during the first four to six months of its life.”
He noted that this “hasn’t been as well-studied with COVID-19.”
“We would think it’s likely because that’s been true in other circumstances. When moms are immunized with other vaccines —