Editor’s note: This article originally ran August 30, 2021 and was updated Sept. 4, 2022.
You’ve got your COVID-19 vaccine and any boosters you’re eligible for—you’re all set for the sickness seasons of fall and winter, right? Not quite. You’ll want to add the annual flu shot to your “stay healthy” to-do list.
“The flu shot remains very important this year,” says UNC Health family medicine physician Sarah Ruff, MD. She recommends getting the flu shot in September, when it becomes widely available at doctors’ offices and pharmacies. It’s OK to get the flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine at the same visit, according to the CDC.
The flu shot is available to everyone 6 months of age and older; some young children require two doses.
Here are three reasons to get a flu shot this year.
1. The flu shot prevents severe cases of the flu, which kills tens of thousands of people each year.
The flu shot helps protect you from serious illness; you might still get the flu, but you’re less likely to need medical care and hospitalization.
Pre-pandemic, when doctors and patients were unmasked, “I would get the flu almost every year,” Dr. Ruff says. “But because I got the flu shot, it would be so mild I would barely even know I got the flu.”
If you don’t get the flu shot, you’re at higher risk of being hospitalized with pneumonia that started as the flu, especially if you’re older or have a chronic illness, such as heart disease or lung disease. You need a flu shot each year; scientists change its composition to match the flu viruses in circulation that season.
2. Symptoms of the flu, COVID-19 and common colds are similar. Vaccination helps reduce the odds you’ll feel sick.
While COVID-19 is still circulating at high rates throughout the country, other viruses are also spreading, Dr. Ruff says.
“Without a test, there’s no way to tell the difference between COVID, regular cold and flu, so it’s really important to make sure that you’re limiting the chances that what you have is COVID or flu by getting vaccinated for both,” Dr. Ruff says. (Eventually, expect a combined flu and COVID-19 vaccine, but that’s likely a few years away, she says.)
Again, the flu vaccine won’t prevent all cases of the flu, but it can temper the severity of your symptoms, leading to less time off of work, school and social activities.
3. Get the flu shot to help protect others.
The flu is more dangerous for some groups of people: children under 2, especially newborns; people 65 and older; pregnant or immediately postpartum women; residents of nursing homes; people with chronic illnesses such as asthma, lung disease and heart disease; and those with chronic immune-suppressing conditions such as diabetes and cancer.
The more people who get vaccinated, the less flu will circulate in the community. That means fewer hospitalizations and deaths.
“Getting a flu shot each year,” Dr. Ruff says, “is the best way to stay ahead of the virus.”
Talk to your doctor about receiving a flu shot. Need a doctor? Find one near you.