Who should get a flu shot and how long must you wait after Covid-19 vaccination?

Everyone over the age of six months, but certain groups in particular, are urged to get the flu jab

It is that time of year again, when governments announce their annual flu vaccination campaigns to encourage people to get the shot.

But who should be vaccinated against the virus?

And how long must you wait after receiving a Covid-19 booster?

The National explains.

Who should get vaccinated against the flu?

Experts recommend that everyone aged six months and older is vaccinated annually against the flu.

“It is particularly important for people who are at higher risk of developing serious flu complications,” said Dr Manoj Jangid, specialist paediatrician at NMC Royal Hospital in Dubai Investments Park.

He said people at higher risk of complications include children younger than five, adults over the age of 65, pregnant women, people with underlying medical problems – such as chronic lung diseases, asthma, diabetes, heart problems, blood disorders, kidney or liver disease – and those who are obese or have a weakened immune system.

Family members of people with any of these conditions are also strongly urged to get vaccinated against the flu to protect the more vulnerable members of the household.

Where is the flu vaccine available and how much does it cost?

The vaccine, which is made using inactivated virus, is available at many health clinics across the UAE.

In Abu Dhabi, the vaccine is available at all Seha health centres and is free for people over 50, children aged 18 and under, people with disabilities, pregnant women, citizens who have Thiqa cards and people with chronic diseases.

There is also no charge for citizens and healthcare workers.

Everyone else can get the flu vaccine for Dh50 ($13.60).

When should you get it?

September and October are the best months to be vaccinated against flu, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

And ideally everyone should be vaccinated before the end of October.

But any time is a good time if you have not already had the vaccine by winter.

How much flu will be around this winter?

It’s hard to tell.

There was very little flu circulating in the 2020/2021 season. Just 0.2 per cent of samples tested in the US were positive from late September to May. That compared to between 26.2 per cent and 30.3 per cent during the three flu seasons preceding the pandemic.

Masks and other Covid-19 precautions could keep cases lower again this year. In the southern hemisphere, which is usually a reliable predictor of what is to come elsewhere, cases have also been “historically light,” experts say.

But the future is by no means certain.

"The incidence of flu this year will be unpredictable," said Dr Karthikeyan Dakshinamoorthy, a specialist in internal medicine, NMC Royal Hospital, DIP, Dubai.

"We can expect lesser cases initially as we are maintaining social distancing, wearing masks and following hand hygiene measures. Since the schools are opened and masks are not compulsory in some places, the flu cases may increase as the government eases the wearing of masks."

What is the difference between flu and Covid-19?

They are both respiratory illnesses and have similar symptoms, but they are each caused by different viruses and differ in severity. A swab test needs to be carried out to check which one is causing illness.

According to the CDC, Covid-19 can cause more severe illness in some people.

And it has a higher death rate. Flu is estimated to kill 0.1 per cent of people it infects, while the majority of studies suggest Covid-19’s infection fatality rate is 0.68 per cent.

"Both flu and Covid are dangerous, being causes of mortality worldwide, especially in the elderly and immunocompromised," said Dr Henry Galuba, specialist in internal medicine at International Modern Hospital in Dubai.

"The only difference is that Covid spreads faster and can cause rapid respiratory complications, thus it's harder to contain. On the other hand flu has been well studied for decades, yearly strains are well tracked thus vaccines are well prepared yearly to give us proper protection."

Symptoms common to both include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/having chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Change in or loss of taste or smell, although this is more frequent with COVID-19.

Allow for gap between flu and Covid-19 shots

There should be a gap of at least 14 days between the vaccines to allow the body to develop immunity, experts say.

“People should not think twice as this flu vaccine is different from the Covid vaccine, so it is important they take it,” said Dr Hind Al Awadhi, head of health promotion and education at Dubai Health Authority.

“There is no reason not to [take it], we only ask people to leave a gap of two weeks between doses to give their body enough time to develop some immunity," she said.

Updated: October 16th 2021, 11:30 AM