Doctors in the United Arab Emirates have urged residents across the country to get their seasonal flu jab on top of their COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots, saying it is important people protect themselves against influenza as well as the coronavirus.
While health experts say it is difficult to predict how the flu season will fare this year, they say it could be worse than in 2020 when the number of people suffering with seasonal flu and other respiratory virus plummeted due to increased hygiene and health safety practices to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Azeem Abdul Salam Mohamad, a specialist in internal medicine at Bareen International Hospital - MBZ City, told Al Arabiya English it is still important that everyone has a flu shot – recommended for those aged six months or old – as well as a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Since influenza season cases tend to peak in the winter season, flu shots are highly recommended,” he said.
Can you get a COVID-vaccine and flu shot at the same time?
Mohamad said, medically speaking, it is also safe to get a flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot at the same time.
“It is safe to get a flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine on the same day,” he said. “Each vaccine can be given either on different limbs or on the same limb, sites being separated by at least one inch.
Dr Sundar Elayaperumal, a specialist in microbiology at Burjeel Hospital, agreed, saying: “Flu vaccines can be administered together with a COVID-19 vaccine.”
This applies to both initial does of the COVID-19 vaccine, or a top-up booster jab, the doctor said.
However, Elayaperumal advised to give a week-long gap between a COVID-19 vaccine or booster and a flu shot as this would give a person’s body time to recover from possible side-effects caused by either vaccine.
“It is always better to separate these vaccines a week apart for enhanced immunogenicity and non-reactivity,” he said.
Best time for a flu shot
The doctor said the end of September or October is generally a good time to get a flu shot.
That is because it can take about two weeks for a person’s body to develop enough antibodies against the influenza viruses spreading during the flu season.
The doctor also advised if a person has doubts about which virus they have, they should get tested for the coronavirus as the flu and COVID-19 are similar in nature and are both spread by human-to-human transmission – often by respiratory droplets.
“Both are different classes of virus,” he said. “They may have some similarities in the mode of spread, signs and symptoms but different incubation periods, morbidity and mortality rate and treatments.”
COVID-19 and flu: Signs and symptoms
The symptoms for both are similar, including fever, cough, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, loss of taste or smell, runny nose and sore through.
Generally, COVID-19 appears to spread more easily than the flu because it causes more serious illness, and coronavirus symptoms typically take longer to show, meaning some people may be unknowingly spreading the virus to others.
People sick with the flu can experience symptoms anywhere from one to four days after infection, whereas people with COVID-19 typically come down with symptoms about five days after infection, but the timing can range between two to 14 days.
Can you get flu and COVID-19 at the same time?
It is also possible, said the expert, that a person can get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, adding that a test is the best option to distinguish between the two.
Given that that the two viruses are different - the flu is caused by one of the many influenza viruses spreading during a given year, while COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) – the doctor is also reminding patients that one vaccine will not protect against the other.
The flu shot is not designed to protect against COVID-19, and the COVID-19 vaccine is not meant to lessen your chances of catching the flu.
However, one study found that people who received a flu vaccine up to six months before getting infected with the coronavirus were less likely to have a stroke, experience sepsis or develop blood clots caused by COVID-19. The analysis was based on more than 74,700 COVID-19 patient records.
Coronavirus patients vaccinated against influenza were also less likely to visit the emergency department and be admitted to the intensive care unit, according to the research presented online during the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases in 2021.
Coronavirus patients vaccinated against influenza were also less likely to visit the emergency department and be admitted to the intensive care unit.
Health experts say the best way to protect yourself from either illness is to get the vaccine for that illness.