Emergency physicians advise: Get vaccinated for COVID, flu

The flu season is here, and the American College of Emergency Physicians encourages simple steps to protect people from the “triple threat” of flu, COVID-19 and common respiratory illnesses, including pediatric enterovirus and respiratory syncytial virus.

“Now is the right time to get a COVID vaccine and a flu shot,” said Christopher S. Kang, MD, president of ACEP. “If you didn’t get both yet, it is not too late. Getting the vaccines at any point during flu season is better than not getting them at all.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ACEP and other expert organizations advise annual flu vaccinations for anyone 6 months of age and older, with rare exceptions. Flu shots are safe, effective, and getting vaccinated remains one of the easiest ways to protect against severe illness and hospitalization.

“We know that vaccines work, and we see firsthand how severe COVID and flu can become when for those whose vaccinations are not up-to-date,” said Kang. “People can protect themselves and prevent serious illness from spreading by getting vaccinated and boosted.”

Flu can typically be treated at home, but it is important to know when to contact your primary care provider or go to the emergency department for flu symptoms. People more likely to experience flu-related health complications include young children, those 65 and older, individuals who are pregnant and people with certain medical conditions. The flu shot cannot give anyone the flu and reactions, which tend to be mild, can include arm soreness, headache, fever or nausea.

The updated COVID booster can be protective against recent as well as the currently evolving versions of the virus, including the BQ.1 and BQ1.1 strains. The CDC says that it is safe to get both COVID and flu vaccinations at the same time. After receiving both vaccines at the same time, common reactions tend to be mild and resolve on their own, including fatigue, headache, or arm soreness.

Some emergency physicians are seeing a recent uptick in children with respiratory infections, including RSV, a common virus that can cause lung infections, bronchitis or pneumonia. There are not many approved treatments and no vaccines specifically for RSV. However, the same steps that limit exposure to all respiratory viruses can limit the risks of adults or children getting RSV.

“The protective measures that we all know — masks, handwashing and vaccines — help reduce exposure to a combination of respiratory viruses that continue to pose health risks as people go about their winter activities.”