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

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. Doing so will not only protect you from illness, but will help reduce the strain on the over-taxed medical system during the coronavirus pandemic.

It is especially important that people with kidney disease at any stage and those who have a weakened immune system from a kidney transplant understand that they are at increased risk of severe illness from both COVID-19 and the flu. People who are at high risk of severe complications from flu and COVID-19 need to take precautions to help prevent infection.

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 during the ongoing pandemic.

What you need 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 that are used to make the vaccine.
  • Flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines given with a needle (flu shots) are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with flu viruses that have been killed and therefore are not infectious; a single gene from a flu virus is used (as opposed to the full virus) to produce an immune response without causing infection.
  • A flu vaccine is needed annually for optimal protection because a person's immune protection from vaccination declines over time and flu viruses are constantly changing.

When to get the flu shot

You should get a flu vaccine before flu viruses begin spreading in your community since 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, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination should continue to be offered throughout the flu season, even into January or later. CDC recommends that all people 6 months and older get a yearly flu vaccine.

The flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms but are not the same

While the flu and COVID-19 are both 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.

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

Flu and COVID-19 can both result in serious complications, including illness resulting in hospitalization or death. While there is still much to learn about COVID-19, at this time, COVID-19 is more deadly than seasonal flu.

What's the risk 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. Also, patients with kidney disease have a higher risk of death from the flu than those without kidney disease. In recent seasons, about 30% of adult flu hospitalizations reported to CDC have occurred in people who had diabetes.

"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."

According to CDC, 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.