Cases of influenza (the flu) and COVID are set to rise over winter, with many Australians looking to protect themselves from both of these respiratory viruses.
But can you get both at once? Yes, you can get your flu vaccine and COVID booster safely at the same time, saving you a trip to the GP, nurse or pharmacy.
Why has the advice changed?
When COVID vaccines were first rolled out, a gap was recommended between COVID and flu vaccines. This is because we didn’t have adequate data of the individual and long-term effects of the new COVID vaccines.
After examining the on safety and efficacy, the World Health Organization updated its . It suggests getting an influenza vaccine and any dose of any approved COVID vaccine at the same time is a practical option.
However, until more data becomes available, the WHO advises for vaccination. This is to prevent the ingredients of the vaccines mixing and to limit the initial immune response to a different group of lymph nodes.
It’s practical to get both at once.
What happens when you get two shots at once?
Getting multiple vaccinations at once isn’t new. Childhood vaccinations are routinely and safely administered at the same time.
Participants who had both vaccines at once reported the same types of side effects from the body’s inflammatory response to vaccination (injection-site pain, redness, swelling at the injection site) as well as general symptoms associated with both COVID and flu vaccines, such as fever, muscle pain and a headache.
These minor side-effects were of similar intensity and duration to those who had either vaccine administered alone.
Side effects are similar when you have the vaccines individually or at once.
Getting both COVID and flu vaccines is also more cost-effective, the uptake is higher when people don’t have to make multiple trips, and it saves health practitioners’ time.
What about the viruses? Can you get COVID & the flu at the same time?
Although simultaneous infections with two different viruses are common, SARS-CoV-2 has been infecting humans for a relatively short time. We therefore have limited data on how influenza strains and SARS-CoV-2 interact with the host at the same time, and if there is any interaction between the viruses.
It did, however, find people infected with both viruses at the same time had worse outcomes and were twice as likely to die as those who were only infected with SARS-CoV-2.
Some experimental evidence prior infection with type A influenza virus promotes SARS-CoV-2 entry and infectiousness. This could be due to a unique feature of the influenza A virus which allows COVID to take hold more easily.
Where can I get vaccinated & how much will it cost?
Australians aged five years and over are eligible for a free COVID vaccination. The flu vaccine is free for people at higher risk of complications, including:
- pregnant women
- people six months and older with selected chronic conditions
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
For the rest of the population, the flu vaccine costs around A$20-30. Some practitioners also charge a consultation fee.