The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receives the flu shot (influenza vaccination) each year, unless they have certain health conditions that prevents them from safely receiving it.
Receiving the flu vaccine this year is of particular importance for several additional reasons:
- This flu season is happening in tandem with the COVID-19 pandemic
- The flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms; receiving the flu vaccine can decrease flu-like illness which could be mistaken for COVID-19
- The flu shot will prevent or decrease the rates and severity of the flu
What type of flu shot should transplant patients receive?
You should receive the flu vaccine each and every year. There is a chance that both SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and flu will be around us at the same time this upcoming Fall. It is best if you get your flu shot before the end of October 2020 if possible. If available and covered by your insurance, request the high-dose flu vaccine. If unavailable, it is okay to receive the standard, regular dose flu vaccine.
What type of flu shot should I get?
You should only receive the injection form, as the nasal form contains live virus and is not safe for transplant and other immunocompromised patients.
What should we tell household contacts?
We strongly recommend that all household contacts and anyone you interact with regularly receives the flu vaccine to protect themselves and to protect you. The choice of vaccine for your family and friends will depend on their age and other health conditions. However, they should NOT receive the nasal form live virus vaccine.
When can transplant patients receive the flu shot?
Most organ transplant recipients can receive the flu shot as soon as it becomes available. For patients who underwent an organ transplant recently, we recommend receiving the vaccine at least a month after your surgery but you should discuss with your transplant team to determine when it is best for you to receive the flu shot. You can get the flu shot anywhere that offers them and accepts your insurance, such as your doctor's office or pharmacy. If you receive the flu shot somewhere other than Penn Medicine, record the type and date and notify your transplant team so they can update your records.
How well does the flu shot work after a transplant?1
The immune system response to getting the flu shot may be less effective in transplant recipients but is still shown to prevent severe problems that can happen from having flu. The amount of protection from the flu shot is based on many things, such as:
- How well the shot matches the types of flu that that are around us that year
- Each person’s immune system response
- The strength of the immunosuppressive medicines they take
- How much a person has been around others with the flu.
Is the flu shot safe?1
Flu shots have a good safety record. Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely. Serious reactions are very rare and usually happen within one hour of getting the shot. You should go to the closest Emergency Room if any of those symptoms happen to you.
Will wearing a mask and following physical distancing be enough to protect me from the flu?1
No single measure can provide total protection against getting the flu. The flu virus and SARS-CoV-2 (virus that causes COVID-19) are both spread from person to person by respiratory droplets that come from breathing out from the lungs when talking, coughing, or sneezing. There are many ways to prevent the flu including social/physical distancing, use of face masks and frequent hand washing. These actions should be taken in addition to getting the flu shot to lower your chances of getting the flu.
Q: Where is the safest place to get my flu shot during the pandemic?1
To lower your risk of being exposed to COVID-19, choose a place that offers the shot with a quick visit. You also want to go somewhere that you can access easily that has clear guidelines for wearing masks and physical distancing. Many locations are offering drive-up flu shots, call ahead to ask if they offer this option. If you already have an in-person appointment at the doctor’s office, ask for your flu shot to avoid a separate visit. You can find a place that offers the flu shot here: https://vaccinefinder.org/find-vaccine.
Does the flu shot protect me against the virus that causes COVID-19?1
The flu shot will not protect against the virus that causes COVID-19, but it is still important to protect yourself from the flu during the COVID-19 pandemic so you stay healthy and require less medical visits. Many of the symptoms from flu and COVID-19 are the same and patients who get both the flu and COVID19 at the same time may be at risk for more severe illness.
Can I receive the flu shot if I currently have COVID-19?1
Wait until you are no longer able to spread COVID-19 to others before you get your flu shot. Talk with your doctor to find out how and when to get your flu shot.
1 Adapted from the American Society of Transplantation: 2020 Influence Vaccination FAQ
For more information about the flu vaccine, check out this flyer from the American Society of Transplantation.