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Protect yourself against COVID-19 and the flu

Steps to take this winter

Just as the world was shutting down amidst the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, something previously unheard of happened: influenza cases took a sharp nosedive, abruptly ending flu season a few months early, and didn’t reappear at all the following winter. Widespread public health measures like masking, social distancing, more frequent hand washing, and a record number of flu vaccine doses External Site over the past two years likely contributed to its temporary disappearance.

However, cases are once again slowly on the rise as COVID-19 infections continue to overwhelm the U.S. health care system for the second winter in a row. If you haven’t already been vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, it’s important to do so to reduce your risk of severe illness and hospitalization — especially as the highly contagious Omicron variant drives another surge this winter.

But, what about your flu shot? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone older than 6 months get a flu shot every season, which starts ramping up in November and December, and usually lasts through April or May of the following year. Because they are different illnesses, you could be sick from COVID-19 and the flu External Site at the same time.

The good news: you can protect yourself with any COVID-19 vaccine (first, second, third or booster shot) and the flu shot on the same day. If you haven’t gotten either shot or aren’t fully vaccinated or boosted yet, here’s what you need to know.

When to get your flu shot

It’s always ideal to get your flu shot a few weeks before the start of flu season (according to the Mayo Clinic External Site, the best time to get your flu shot is in October) to give your body a chance to build up antibodies against four of the most common flu strains External Site. However, as long as flu shots are available in your community, any protection is better than none at all. Cases typically peak in February (but can pop up as late as May).

When to get your COVID-19 vaccine

According to the CDC External Site, it takes five or six weeks to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with a two-dose, mRNA vaccine series provided by Pfizer or Moderna. This vaccine series is approved for everyone External Site 12 years and older, with a special pediatric dose from Pfizer available for kids ages five to 11. You can get sick with COVID-19 between vaccine doses, so it’s important to get vaccinated as soon as possible to help prevent severe illness.

If you choose to get a single-shot vaccine, like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you are considered fully vaccinated two weeks later. However, the CDC recommends External Site the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines over Johnson & Johnson if they are available.  

When to get your COVID-19 booster shot

If you’ve already had both of your mRNA vaccine doses or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you’re likely going to want to give yourself extra protection against Omicron with a booster shot. All Americans are now eligible for a booster shot, which has been shown to supercharge waning immunity External Site to around 75 percent protection against infection and 85 percent protection against severe disease in recent studies. Depending on your individual situation, a booster shot is recommended at different intervals External Site from your previous vaccine dose:

  • At least five months after a two-dose vaccine series if you are 18 or older*
  • At least two months after a single dose vaccine if you are 18 or older
  • At least 28 days after a two-dose series if you are moderately or severely immunocompromised and 12 years or older

*As of Jan. 5, 2022, the CDC recommends adolescents ages 12 to 17 External Site receive a booster shot five months after getting their second Pfizer shot.

Where to get your flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine

Though it’s a good idea to have a personal doctor for other health reasons, you don’t need to have one to get a flu shot or COVID-19 vaccine. Every year, flu shots are also available at health departments and retail pharmacies. The same is true for COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots, though you will likely have to make an appointment in advance if walk-ins aren’t advertised.

Flu vaccines are typically covered at 100 percent by most Wellmark health plans. COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots Opens New Window are also currently available at no cost to you. Before making an appointment for any vaccine, it’s always a good idea to log in to myWellmark® Secure to review your benefits.