Stanford health experts answer flu vaccine FAQs
Stanford experts answer questions about the 2022 flu season and vaccine, including whether it's safe to get your COVID-19 booster and flu shot at the same time.
Starting Oct. 5, Stanford faculty, staff, retirees, postdocs, and graduate and undergraduate students can receive free flu shots at flu clinics on the main campus, the Redwood City campus, SLAC, Stanford Research Park, and Hopkins Marine Station. Visit flu.stanford.edu to find out when and where flu clinics will be held.
With more of the Stanford community returning to campus, we sat down with Dr. Rich Wittman, medical director at the Stanford University Occupational Health Center, and Dr. Jim Jacobs, associate vice provost of student affairs, executive director of Vaden Health Center, and chair of the Stanford University Public Health Steering Committee, to discuss what to expect from this coming flu season, whether it’s advisable to receive the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 booster simultaneously, what individuals can do to promote a healthier Stanford community.
Is it safe to get the flu vaccine and the updated COVID-19 booster at the same time? Which should you get first?
Wittman: Both the CDC and White House COVID-19 Response Team support getting both the updated COVID-19 booster and the flu shot at the same time. That said, it’s important for community members attending our flu clinics to know that we are only providing the flu vaccine, not COVID-19 vaccinations. People looking for the updated booster should contact their primary care provider or local pharmacies. Stanford Health Care is also offering the booster to adults and children over age 12, including students and their families, at the Neuroscience Wellness Center on campus, and at off-campus locations.
Jacobs: If you have already had your primary series and a booster for COVID-19, the recommendation is to prioritize your flu vaccination. Every flu season we provide thousands of flu vaccines to the university community and are ready to do so again this year. It’s important to note, vaccination against COVID doesn’t provide protection against flu or vice versa. There is no immunological overlap between the vaccines.
What kind of flu season can the Stanford community expect?
Wittman: It’s always difficult to predict what we will see with flu, and there are a variety of factors that can impact the severity of the seasonal wave. What has been surprising to many over the past few years is the dramatic degree by which masking reduces the community burden of flu. Now, as many of us return to our normal routines and travel schedules, with more unmasked interactions, we can expect cases of flu-like illness to rise. This is supported by recent data from Australia, where they experienced their worst flu season in five years, with both higher numbers of cases and an earlier start to the flu season. It is unclear if this case rise may also have stemmed from a reduction in vaccination uptake among a population with vaccination fatigue or from a population with reduced natural immunity, given the low number of infections in recent years. Either way, we are best protected by getting vaccinated and masking when sick and during flu waves.
COVID-19 is still circulating. What are the differences between flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms?
Jacobs: There is a lot of overlap between COVID-19 symptoms and flu symptoms, including fever, upper and lower respiratory symptoms, and tiredness. The CDC has very helpful information on the similarities and differences between COVID-19 and flu.
Is it possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time? If I get sick with the flu, am I at higher risk for contracting COVID-19?
Jacobs: Yes, it is absolutely possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. We have seen it on campus in our student population. Anytime you are sick, your immune system is weakened and it is easier to catch other illnesses.
When is the best time to get a flu shot?
Wittman: Any time between late September through early November is a good time to get a flu shot. Since someone is well-protected from the flu about two weeks after getting their vaccine, we time our flu clinics for October so that people can have full protection from the flu by the Thanksgiving holiday. In most years, there are a number of flu waves that occur, from as early as November to as late as March, so those who miss this vaccination window can still protect themselves by getting the shot later in the year.
In addition to getting the flu vaccine, are there other things community members can do to prevent the spread of flu on campus?
Jacobs: The good news is that we already have the tools to create a safer flu season. The same public health measures that our community has been using to prevent the spread of COVID-19 can also prevent the spread of flu: wash your hands, cough and sneeze into your elbow, and stay home when you feel sick. Wearing face masks can also help to limit the spread of disease, and are strongly encouraged. The Stanford community has adapted to many changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and on behalf of the university’s Public Health Steering Committee, I would like to express my gratitude for your efforts to keep our community healthy, which has allowed for education and groundbreaking research to continue.