If You Have Kidney Disease, You Need to Get a Flu Shot This Fall

September 18, 2020, 11:31am EDT

This fall, more than ever before, it is critical that everyone get a flu vaccine. The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourage everyone, especially kidney patients, to get a flu vaccine before the end of October. Do this to protect yourself and reduce the strain on the over-taxed medical system.

Those with kidney disease or with a weakened immune system are at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 as well as the flu. If you are at risk of severe complications, take precautions to protect yourself. 

A flu vaccine may also provide several individual health benefits. It may keep you from getting sick with flu, or reduce the severity if you do get it. These benefits can reduce your risk of flu-associated hospitalization during the ongoing pandemic.

What to know this flu season

  • Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies protect against infection with the viruses used to make the vaccine.
  • Flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness. Two types of flu vaccines are widely available:
    1. Inactive flu viruses that are not infectious.
    2. Single flu virus genes (not the full virus) that produce an immune response without causing infection.
  • Get flu vaccines every year for optimal protection. Immune protection from vaccination declines over time and flu viruses always change.

When to get the flu shot

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 flu. 

CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October. Getting vaccinated later can still be beneficial. Vaccination should continue throughout the flu season, even beyond January. CDC recommends that all people 6 months and older get a yearly flu vaccine.

Differences between flu and COVID-19

The flu and COVID-19 are both infectious respiratory illnesses. Influenza viruses cause flu and a new coronavirus causes COVID-19. While symptoms may be similar – two different viruses cause the flu and COVID-19.

You can have the flu and COVID-19 (including other respiratory illnesses) at the same time. Experts are still studying how common this can be.

Flu and COVID-19 can both result in illness, resulting in hospitalization or death. Experts see COVID-19 as more deadly than seasonal flu.

What if I don't get a flu shot?

"It is especially important that people with chronic kidney disease at any stage and those who are treated with dialysis or kidney transplant understand that they are at increased risk of severe illness from both COVID-19 and the flu," said Dr. Joseph Vassalotti, Chief Medical Officer at NKF.

Kidney disease causes a decreased immune response, increasing vulnerability to infections. Patients face a greater risk of getting certain diseases and developing severe complications. Patients with kidney disease have a higher risk of death from the flu than those without kidney disease

Flu and kidney disease risk

Adults with diabetes make up 30% of flu hospitalizations reported to CDC.

"Diabetes remains one of the primary risk factors for chronic kidney disease in the U.S.," said Ann Albright, PhD, RDN, director of the Division of Diabetes Translation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Good diabetes management is one of the best ways people with diabetes can support their health, including continuing to take medications as prescribed and ensuring they've received all recommended vaccinations. Flu and pneumococcal vaccines are especially important right now, as people with diabetes are at high risk for severe complications from both COVID-19 and the flu."

The CDC states that people with kidney disease at any stage and kidney transplant recipients should only receive a flu vaccine by injection rather than the nasal spray flu vaccine.

Find more information about kidney disease and the flu at CDC.gov and in NKF's Frequently Asked Questions.