The flu vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccines. What’s the difference? And do you really need both?

As we gear up for another influenza season, and COVID-19 vaccinations across our communities continue, you may have a lot of questions about the two vaccines – and if they work together.

Read on to learn what makes each vaccine different, why it’s safe and important to get both this year, when to get vaccinated and more.

COVID-19 vaccines vs. flu vaccines: What’s the difference?

While COVID-19 and seasonal flu can cause similar symptoms, they are not caused by the same virus. That means flu vaccines and the COVID-19 vaccines are designed to protect against the specific viruses that cause their respective illnesses.

The flu is caused by influenza viruses, and flu vaccines have been around for decades. Each year, specific flu vaccines are recommended to help provide the best protection against the strains research says will be the most common that year.

COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Our bodies had never encountered this type of coronavirus before the pandemic, so they hadn’t built antibodies to fight it. And we didn’t have a vaccine to protect against it until the first was authorized in late 2020.

How is each vaccine designed?

There are a lot of types of vaccines, and they all work a little differently. What they have in common is that they all trigger an immune system response that produces the antibodies that will help your body fight off a virus or infection if you encounter it.

How are COVID-19 vaccines different from other vaccines? (And what’s the difference between each COVID-19 vaccine?)

All available COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective and reduce your chance of severe illness. The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are mNRA vaccines, which include genetic material with specific chemical instructions asking your body’s cells to make a small noninfectious piece of spike protein, which is located on the surface of the coronavirus. The spike protein is how COVID-19 enters the body and how your immune system recognizes it.

There is also a viral vector vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson. This vaccine starts with a harmless virus (not COVID-19) and adds a DNA snippet coded with a small noninfectious piece of the COVID-19 spike protein.

No matter which type of vaccine you get, they all accomplish the same goal: they build memory cells in your body called T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes. These cells prompt your body to remember how to fight the coronavirus if you encounter it. All types of vaccines provide a much greater immunity to COVID-19.

What kind of vaccine is the flu shot?

There are two types of flu vaccines: conventional shots and nasal mists.

Conventional flu shots are usually inactivated vaccines, meaning there’s no live virus in it. Nasal flu mists are live attenuated vaccines, which means they have a small amount of active virus that is weakened. Neither can give you the flu, despite the common myths about flu vaccines, and both provide greater immunity to influenza.

Do I need the COVID-19 vaccine and a flu shot this year?

Yes. Since the flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine protect against different viruses, both are recommended for those who are eligible.

Annual flu shots are recommended for anyone six months and older. That means even if you had a flu shot last year, you should also receive this year’s vaccine.

COVID-19 vaccination is currently recommended for people 5 years old and up – including those who’ve already had COVID-19 and may have long-haul COVID symptoms.

Get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can

Everyone should be vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as they are able – even if they’ve had COVID-19.

The same holds true for your child. Get them vaccinated as soon as they are eligible at age 5. This vaccine requires two shots over several weeks, so the sooner you schedule your child’s vaccination, the sooner they’ll have increased immunity against COVID-19.

Though schools have implemented ways to keep children safe from COVID-19 while learning in-person, vaccination provides more protection when your child is exposed to COVID-19 and helps control the spread of the coronavirus.

Get the flu vaccine as early as you can

Flu shots are usually available from early September through March. Here’s what you should know about the flu vaccine and who should get one:

  • Most people – In general, people should get their flu shot by the end of October.
  • Kids – If your child (6 months to 8 years old) is getting a flu shot for the first time, they’ll need two doses at least 28 days apart. Try to get their first dose as soon as you can, so they can have their second dose before the end of October.
  • Ages 65 and up – When older patients get the flu, they are more likely to get very sick. We recommend getting a flu shot that is specially formulated for patients age 65 and older as soon as you can.
  • Pregnant people – If you’re pregnant, a flu shot is very important. It can even keep your newborn baby healthier. So get your flu shot right away, especially if you’re in your third trimester.
  • People with egg allergies – If you have an egg allergy, you can still be protected against the flu. Just let your doctor know you have egg allergies before getting the shot.

Can you have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time?

Yes, it’s possible to be infected with COVID-19 and influenza at the same time. That’s why it’s important to receive both vaccinations.

Can you receive a COVID-19 vaccine dose and a flu shot at the same time?

Yes. There’s no waiting period between receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot or any other vaccines.

Should I wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine until I get this year’s flu vaccine?

No, there’s no reason to wait until you receive the 2021-2022 flu vaccine.

Protect yourself and your loved ones by getting vaccinated

COVID-19 and the seasonal flu are both highly contagious illnesses that can lead to serious complications. Getting vaccinated against these viruses is the best way to keep you and your loved ones safe.

COVID-19 vaccines are currently available at HealthPartners for everyone 5 and older – you do not need to be a current patient. By getting vaccinated, you can significantly reduce your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. So consider getting vaccinated if you haven’t already.

Flu shot appointments are typically available starting in early September. It’s recommended that you get vaccinated as soon as possible – and ideally before the end of October. This helps makes sure you’re protected for the entire flu season.

Schedule your flu and/or COVID-19 vaccinations