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Flu & COVID-19

Seasonal Flu and COVID-19: Answers to Your Questions

Every flu season is unique and influenza infection can affect people differently. Millions of people get the flu every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized, and thousands of people die from flu-related causes. An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to help protect against the flu. Vaccination has many benefits including reducing the risk or severity of flu illnesses and hospitalizations, and even the risk of flu-related death in children.

Vaccination to prevent the flu is important for people who are at increased risk for severe illness and complications from the flu. People at high risk from the flu include those with chronic kidney disease (CKD) at any stage, including patients on dialysis and kidney transplant recipients.

How do flu vaccines work?

" People with chronic kidney disease (CKD) at any stage and kidney transplant recipients should only receive flu vaccine by injection – nasal spray flu vaccine is not safe for this population."

There are many flu viruses, and they are always changing. Each year a new flu vaccine is made to protect against three or four viruses that are most likely to cause disease in the upcoming flu season. It takes about 2 weeks for protection to develop after getting a flu shot.

Can a flu vaccine give me the flu?

No, flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines given with a needle (flu shots) are currently made two ways. The vaccine is made either with:

  • Flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ (killed) and therefore are not infectious
  • A single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus) to produce an immune response without causing infection

Is it better to get the flu than the flu vaccine?

No. The flu can be a serious disease, particularly among young children, older adults, and people with certain chronic health conditions, such as chronic kidney disease (CKD) at any stage including patients on dialysis and kidney transplant recipients who have weakened immune systems. All flu infections carry a risk of serious complications, hospitalization, or death, even among otherwise healthy children and adults. Therefore, to obtain immune protection, getting vaccinated is a safer choice than risking severe illness.

When should I get the flu vaccine?

Make plans to get vaccinated early in the fall before flu season begins. You should get a flu vaccine before flu viruses begin spreading in your community. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October. Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial.

Why do I need a flu vaccine every year?

A flu vaccine is needed every year for two reasons. First, an annual vaccine is needed for optimal protection because a person’s immune protection from vaccination declines over time. Second, because flu viruses are constantly changing, flu vaccines may be updated from one season to the next to protect against the viruses that research suggests may be the most common viruses during the upcoming flu season.

Is COVID-19 the same as the flu?

No, while both are infectious respiratory illnesses, the flu is caused by influenza viruses and COVID-19 is caused by a new kind of coronavirus. So, even though physical symptoms may be similar – COVID-19 and the flu are caused by two distinctly different viruses.

Will there be flu along with COVID-19 in the fall and winter?

" Only 47% of the American public take advantage of the flu vaccine. We’re hoping the American public will see the flu vaccine is one major way they can help the nation get through this fall."

Robert Redfield, MD, CDC Director

While it’s not possible to say with certainty what will happen in the fall and winter, the CDC believes it’s likely flu viruses and COVID-19 will be active in 2020/2021. Therefore, getting a flu vaccine will be more important than ever. CDC recommends all people 6 months and older get a yearly flu vaccine.

How can I prevent getting sick with the flu or COVID-19?

People with chronic kidney disease at any stage and those who have a weakened immune system from a kidney transplant should understand they are at increased risk of severe illness from both COVID-19 and the flu. These individuals need to take precautions such as vaccinations and other measures to help prevent infection. While at the moment there is no vaccine for COVID-19, there is a vaccine to prevent the flu.

Can I have flu and COVID-19 at the same time?

Yes. It is possible to have the flu and other respiratory illnesses including COVID-19 at the same time. Experts are still studying how common this can be.

Will a flu vaccine protect me against COVID-19?

Getting a flu vaccine will not protect against COVID-19, however flu vaccination has many other important benefits. Flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk or severity of flu illness, hospitalization, and death. Getting a flu vaccine this fall will be more important than ever, not only to reduce your risk from flu complications but also to help conserve potentially scarce health care resources.

Is COVID-19 more dangerous than flu?

Flu and COVID-19 can both result in serious complications, including illness resulting in hospitalization or death. While it is too early to draw any conclusions from the current data and there is still much to learn about COVID-19, at this time it does seem as if COVID-19 is more deadly than seasonal flu.

Why is it important to get a flu shot during the COVID-19 pandemic?

" Patients with CKD at all stages and kidney transplant recipients are at increased risk of complications from the flu or COVID-19 infection."

Source: CDC

For the upcoming flu season, flu vaccination will be very important to reduce flu because it can help reduce the overall impact of respiratory illnesses on the population and lessen the resulting burden on the healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A flu vaccine may also provide several individual health benefits, including keeping you from getting sick with flu, reducing the severity of your illness if you do get flu and reducing your risk of a flu-associated hospitalization.

CKD causes a decreased immune response, increasing your vulnerability to infections. You face a greater risk of getting certain diseases and developing severe complications. Also, patients with CKD have a higher risk of death from the flu.

If you have CKD, are on dialysis or have received a kidney transplant, ask your healthcare professional about getting the flu shot.

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