Dec 14, 2023
Perfect timing for updated COVID-19 and flu shots
Clinicians are urging flu and COVID-19 vaccination as cases creep up across the country while the busy holiday party and travel season kicks off.
“These vaccines help prevent infection, illness and hospitalizations, and are a great way to make sure you and your family have a healthy winter,” said Dr. Ashley Yeats, a physician and vice president of medical operations at the nonprofit Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. “We’re so fortunate to have these updated shots as a resource this year, especially as we see both viruses begin their seasonal climb in communities across the U.S.”
What's the trend now?
According to December data for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's wastewater monitoring, which tracks the presence of the virus in wastewater treatment plans, COVID is circulating nationally at a higher rate than any point in the past 11 months, in line with past trends, which have shown a spike during the winter holiday gathering periods.
The seasonal flu also is spreading at a rapid rate, according to the CDC.
"Seasonal influenza activity continues to increase in most parts of the country, with the southeast and south-central areas of the country reporting the highest levels of activity," the center reported in mid December.
What to know about the shots
Flu and COVID vaccines are available at your doctor’s office, neighborhood pharmacy and health centers, and clinicians are recommending the annual vaccines for anyone 6 months or over.
The vaccines were modified by scientists earlier this year to seek to target versions of the viruses that are most prevalent this season.
“Updated shots for viruses like flu and COVID are necessary because protection from prior vaccination and infection wanes over time," Yeats said. "We’ve seen annual flu boosters prove their value for decades at reducing infection, hospitalizations and deaths, and COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be similarly effective for the past three years."
Both vaccines are safe and boost protection, with minimal side effects
Dr. Ashley Yeats
The benefits, by the numbers
“The annual flu vaccine is most important for adults ages 65 and older, children under 5 and people with weak immune systems,” Yeats said, “but everyone can benefit.”
Studies have found similar trends for COVID-19 vaccines: for example, the shots have been 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 deaths in adults and 74% effective in preventing hospitalizations for children.
Who should get vaccinated?
Both shots are recommended for everyone 6 months and older, regardless of whether they’ve been previously vaccinated.
They are given in single doses, and “it’s fine to get the updated coronavirus shot at the same time as your flu shot,” Yeats noted.
Kids who are 6 months to age 4 and have not previously received a COVID-19 shot should get what is known as a “primary series” of shots, consisting of two or three shots spaced a few weeks apart. The same applies to immunosuppressed adults who have never been vaccinated against COVID-19.
People who have been recently vaccinated can wait two months before getting an updated COVID-19 vaccine; those who have been recently infected can wait three months, or get it as soon as they’re feeling better.
What about cost?
Flu and COVID-19 vaccines are free for anyone with health insurance, including private plans like Blue Cross as well as Medicare and Medicaid. A federal program to provide the shots without cost to the uninsured is being rolled out at health centers, health departments and pharmacies.
How can I find a shot?
- For flu shots, go to https://www.vaccines.gov/find-vaccines/
- For COVID-19 shots, check out https://www.vaccines.gov/.
- In Massachusetts, look here for mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinics.
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