Influenza and COVID-19 Vaccines Are Each Important for Health

Both influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are potentially deadly, and vaccinations are the most effective way people can reduce their risk of infection from either virus. While the death rate from COVID-19 is higher than from flu, each takes a heavy toll on Alabamians.

Flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory viruses that affect lungs and breathing and can be spread to others. The symptoms of influenza such as fever, headache, cough, sore throat, muscle ache, and fatigue are similar to symptoms of COVID-19. Unlike COVID-19, however, flu does not typically affect smell or taste.

Vaccines for both COVID-19 and flu have the benefit of reducing illnesses, doctors’ visits, missed time from work and school, and can prevent hospitalizations and deaths. Most people need both the influenza and COVID-19 vaccines, and both vaccines can be administered at the same visit with one exception. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautions that flu vaccine for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, regardless of whether they have symptoms, should be deferred until they have met the criteria to discontinue their isolation.

Completing the primary series of COVID-19 vaccine, whether with Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson and Johnson, remains the most important way to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control. COVID-19 vaccine is widely available in Alabama, and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) urges all Alabamians ages 12 and above to be vaccinated with the appropriate product as expediently as possible. The CDC now recommends that additional groups of people over age 65 or at high risk should receive a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine and others may opt for vaccination based on their individual risk and benefit.

At this time, COVID-19 vaccine is not authorized or approved for children under age 12, unlike seasonal flu vaccine which is recommended each year for everyone ages 6 months and older, with rare exceptions. Both COVID-19 and flu vaccines take about 2 weeks to develop protective antibodies.

Getting vaccinated for COVID-19 and influenza yourself goes a long way in protecting the people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious illness, such as babies and young children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions. The protection offered by vaccinations also can help preserve needed healthcare resources, as the course of the pandemic remains unpredictable.

ADPH and other statewide health organizations including the Alabama Hospital Association and the Medical Association of the State of Alabama are encouraging Alabamians to get their flu shots by the end of October to enjoy the maximum protection for the flu season. This year’s flu vaccine protects against four different flu strains. In addition, we are hopeful that confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine is increasing. If you are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19, you are urged to please get the safe, effective, and free COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can. Now is the time to contact your healthcare provider, pharmacy, or county health department for clinic schedules and to roll up your sleeves to protect yourself and others.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(October 2021)