The flu vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccines. You may have a lot of questions about them – and if they work together.
Read on to learn what makes each vaccine different, why it’s safe and important to have both, when to get vaccinated and more.
Flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines: What’s the difference?
While COVID-19 and seasonal flu have 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.
So, the flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccine does not protect against the flu.
The flu is caused by influenza viruses, and flu vaccines have been around for decades. Each year, all flu vaccines are specifically made to protect against the strains that 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.
Types of COVID-19 vaccines
Since the first COVID-19 vaccine was released in December 2020, the options and formulas have changed as new strains have circulated. There are three different types of COVID-19 vaccines that have been created, but the availability of each varies:
- mRNA vaccine – This kind of vaccine includes genetic material with specific chemical instructions that ask 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. The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are mRNA vaccines, and the updated formula will be available at HealthPartners soon.
- Protein subunit vaccine – Subunit vaccines include parts of the virus to stimulate your immune system response. The Novavax vaccine is a protein subunit vaccine that includes harmless S proteins from the virus. Subunit vaccines have been used for many years to prevent conditions such as hepatitis B, shingles and whooping cough. The Novavax vaccine is not available at HealthPartners.
- Viral vector vaccine – This type of 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. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was a viral vector vaccine and is no longer available.
All available COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and reduce your chance of severe illness.
Types of flu vaccines
There are two types of flu vaccines: conventional shots and nasal spray flu vaccines, which are also called nasal mists.
Conventional flu shots are inactivated vaccines, meaning there’s no live virus in it. Nasal spray flu vaccines (FluMist) 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. The number of doses for both vaccines depends on your age, health and if you’ve had any doses of either vaccine in the past.
Get an updated COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it’s available
The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines are being updated in September 2023 to provide better protection against the strains of COVID-19 that are currently most common. Once the updated COVID-19 vaccine is available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months old or older get the vaccine – even if they’ve already been vaccinated to protect against COVID-19:
- Ages 5 years and up – Get one dose of an updated vaccine. If you’ve had a COVID-19 vaccine before, wait two months since your last dose.
- Ages 6 months old to 4 years old – Kids in this age range will need between one and three doses, depending on how many vaccine doses they’ve already received.
Get the flu vaccine before flu season hits
Annual flu vaccines are recommended for anyone 6 months old and older. That means even if you had a flu shot or nasal spray vaccine last year, you should also receive this year’s vaccine.
Flu shots are usually available in September. Here’s what you should know about the flu vaccine and who should get one:
- Ages 6 months to 8 years old – If your child hasn’t had a flu shot before, two doses are needed. The CDC recommends kids get their first dose as soon as possible so that they can get their second dose by the end of October. If your child has received at least two flu shots in the past, they’ll need just one dose – which they should get by the end of October.
- FluMist is a safe option for kids 2 years old and up who don’t have contraindications. This can be a good option if your little one is concerned about getting a shot.
- Ages 8 to 64 years old – Aim to get vaccinated in September or October.
- FluMist is also a safe option for people in this age group through 49 years old who don’t have contraindications.
- 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 aged 65 and older by the end of October or as soon as you can.
- Pregnant people – Getting a flu shot when you’re pregnant is important. It can even keep your newborn baby healthier. If you are in your third trimester of pregnancy, get the flu shot as early as possible. All other pregnant people should get their flu shot by the end of October.
- People with egg allergies – People with egg allergies can receive any influenza vaccine formulation.
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 and flu vaccine at the same time?
Yes. There’s no waiting period between receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine or any other vaccines.
Can you get both vaccines in the same arm?
Yes. It’s possible to get the COVID-19 and flu vaccine in the same arm. However, your provider may prefer to administer the vaccines in separate arms if possible.
Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine or the flu vaccine first?
The order in which you receive either of the vaccines does not matter. The most important thing is to get the flu shot by the end of October and to get an updated COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can.
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.
The updated mRNA COVID-19 vaccines will soon be available at HealthPartners.
Flu shot appointments are typically available starting in September. It’s recommended that you get vaccinated before flu season begins – ideally before the end of October. This helps makes sure you’re protected for the entire flu season.