Earlier last month, the much awaited Omicron booster finally rolled out. This COVID-19 booster is specially developed to target Omicron strains of the virus, i.e. what’s circulating right now, making it a fantastic alternative to have in your COVID-fighting armoury. But, of course, we’re also entering flu season, making it the appropriate time to get your annual flu vaccination.
But this prompts us to wonder: can you have your flu vaccination and Omicron booster at the same time? The simple answer is yes, but it’s natural to be a little apprehensive of doubling up, especially if you’ve had negative effects from either shot in the past. Here’s what infectious disease physicians and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend, so you may get both critical vaccines, stress free.
Is it okay to get the Omicron booster and flu vaccination at the same time?
Yes. “The influenza vaccination and the COVID-19 booster can be administered at the same time,” says Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “They have been evaluated in joint administration and there’s no negative effect.”
When the COVID-19 vaccines were first granted emergency use authorisation (EUA), the CDC recommended waiting 14 days between obtaining that and any other vaccine, says Thomas Russo, M.D., professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York. This was in order to make sure both vaccines would be effective and to limit negative effects. But the CDC now says that it’s OK to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine plus other immunizations in the same appointment.
The CDC states that studies done throughout the pandemic “indicate that it is safe to obtain both a COVID-19 vaccination and a flu vaccine at the same visit.” The CDC specifically cites a JAMA study that suggests that people who got a flu vaccine and an mRNA COVID-19 booster vaccine at the same time were only slightly more likely to say they had side effects—we’re talking a difference of 11% with both shots at once compared to 8% of those who got them separately.
But is it a good idea to obtain the flu vaccine and Omicron booster at once?
Again, the CDC says you’re absolutely good to take this path. But physicians suggest you might want to consider a few things before you roll up both sleeves at once.
Both arms might pain
At a very basic level, you could be dealing with two hurting arms, explains William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “You’ll get an inoculation in each arm,” he points out. “It’s OK to do this and your body will deal with it in a perfectly normal way, but do you want to be walking around with two hurting arms at once?”
There’s a tiny possibility you might suffer more side effects
Again, that JAMA study found that there’s a tiny possibility you would have more adverse effects if you have both doses at once. According to the study, those included:
- Muscle ache
Worth noting: Those symptoms were typically moderate and faded away soon, says the study.
Side effects will vary on your past reactions to both immunizations
If you’re worried about exacerbating potential side effects, like a temperature or feeling blah, if you get the immunizations together, Dr. Schaffner notes that “a lot will rely on your previous experience with the vaccines.” Meaning, if you tend to have a minor temperature after the flu vaccine and you received a fever after your COVID-19 vaccine, there’s a decent possibility you’ll experience the same if you get both together—and maybe much more fiercely than if you receive one at a time. Ditto for having a sore arm, or any other adverse effect.
If you’re apprehensive about having your flu vaccination and Omicron booster at once, you can space them apart
Again, you can absolutely pull these shots together. But, if you’re concerned and feel more comfortable spacing them out, Dr. Schaffner says you can definitely do that.
“There’s no rule about how far you should space them apart since you can acquire them at the same time,” he explains. “But I would urge that, if you want to wait, you get one and then wait a few days to make sure you feel great. Then, acquire the other.”
Russ Lampen, D.O., an infectious disease specialist with Spectrum Health, suggests waiting “about a week” between shots “since side effects for either the flu or COVID vaccine rarely last more than two days,” he says.
As for which one to receive first, Dr. Schaffner recommends going with your Omicron booster first. “COVID is out there today, so I would be included to get that booster first,” he explains. “Then, get the influenza vaccine.”
The bottom line
“If it’s more convenient for you to have both immunizations at once, then go for it,” Dr. Schaffner adds. But, if you’re nervous about that, consider spacing them out a few days.
Whatever you do, experts recommend receiving both the Omicron booster and the flu vaccination. “The consequences of getting both COVID and the flu are not great,” Dr. Russo says. “You’ll want to be vaccinated.”