RSV, Influenza, COVID-19: What you need to know
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As we enter flu season, health officials are ramping up vaccine distribution. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that, with rare exceptions, everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine.
Vaccination is vital to protecting individuals, communities and to avoid more strain on already overburdened health care systems, according to health care experts.
Last season, people vaccinated against the flu were about 40% to 70% less likely to be hospitalized because of flu illness or related complications, according to preliminary estimates from the CDC.
USA TODAY spoke with Amy Lynn Safaty, a CVS pharmacist and district leader based in Long Island, New York, and Helen Maser, a Walgreens Pharmacist and Pharmacy Manager based in Manhasset, New York, on everything you need to know about the flu shot this year.
When should you get the flu shot?
Helen Maser: There’s never a better time than now to get your vaccine. It takes two weeks to kick in, and you want to be immunized before the virus starts circulating in our population so that you don’t bring the virus home to your family.
Amy Lynn Safaty: It is recommended to get the flu vaccine as soon as it’s available from the CDC. We got our vaccine at the end of August, and we started administering it right away. It does take your body two weeks to build the antibodies to the vaccine. So, while it still might feel like summer outside, it is the time to get vaccinated.
What are side effects of the flu shot?
Helen Maser: The side effects of the flu shot are usually local reactions in your arm. It can include a little pain or redness at the injection site. That’s usually pretty self-limited for a day or two. Sometimes you can experience a headache or a little fever, or you could be tired. Just remember that the side effects are completely normal. It’s a good sign that the vaccine is kicking in and is doing its job to protect you.
Amy Lynn Safaty: Common side effects with the flu vaccine include a sore arm, you might feel a little bit tired, maybe a mild headache after you get the injection, but these tend to resolve after two to three days.
What are some misconceptions about the flu shot?
Amy Lynn Safaty: I think one of the most common misconceptions when it comes to the flu vaccine is that people think if they get the vaccine, they are going to get the flu, which is not the case. The vaccine is an inactivated vaccine, so it will not cause the flu.
What should people know about getting the COVID-19 booster shot?
Helen Maser: The updated shot is a closer match to the currently circulating variant, and it will help to boost your immune system to fight off the virus. So even if you had COVID before, or if you got one of the previous booster shots, the new one will bolster your antibody production. You can get the COVID-19 booster with the flu shot.
Amy Lynn Safaty: The COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine are both inactivated vaccines, so there is no live virus in the vaccines. That means it’s perfectly safe to be given together. And when patients are scheduling an appointment online, they can book for multiple vaccines for one visit. You could also book appointments for your whole family at the same time.
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How to schedule a flu shot appointment
Appointments can be scheduled immediately. To schedule a COVID-19 or flu vaccination appointment at Walgreens, visit Walgreens.com/ScheduleVaccine, use the Walgreens app or call 1-800-WALGREENS. Walgreens offers flexible openings, including nights, weekends, and walk-ins when available.
Patients can make a vaccination appointment with CVS Pharmacy online or through the CVS Pharmacy app. You may also schedule a vaccination online for a MinuteClinic location. At many MinuteClinic locations, you can walk in for a flu shot throughout flu season. Check online to see if walk-in appointments are available in your area.
Do you need health insurance to get the flu vaccine?
Amy Lynn Safat: The majority of insurance plans will cover flu vaccines at no out-of-pocket cost to the patient. And if the patient is uninsured, we do have cost-saving options for them to lower that out-of-pocket cost for the vaccine.
How would you respond to someone who’s hesitant about getting vaccinated?
Helen Maser: I find that if people are hesitant about receiving a shot, or they don’t know if they should get two immunizations at the same time, please ask because I’ll give you all the knowledge you need to make a good decision for yourself. And usually, that results in patients taking the vaccine.
Amy Lynn Safat: Getting a flu vaccine is a great way to not only keep yourself healthy, but your community and your family. So someone who might be younger would be at lower risk for severe complications from the flu. But our older populations are more likely to end up hospitalized from complications from the flu.
Is there anything else people should know about the flu or COVID-19 vaccines?
Helen Maser: Right now, we have COVID-19 vaccines for adults 12 and up, and the pediatric and toddler shots will be arriving soon, September 29.