By Jacqueline Howard, CNN
Fall and winter are around the corner, which means not only is it time to get your flu shot, but US health officials are urging everyone who is eligible to get their updated COVID-19 booster, too.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the updated COVID-19 vaccine boosters this month, after the US Food and Drug Administration’s authorization. The updated Pfizer/BioNTech booster is authorized for people 12 and older, and Moderna’s is authorized for 18 and older.
At the same time, health officials stress the recommendation to get your seasonal flu vaccine. Some disease forecasters worry that the upcoming flu season could be a tough one for North America, as nations in the Southern Hemisphere that already had their flu seasons — like Australia and New Zealand — saw higher-than-average peaks in cases. So, the United States could see flu make a comeback while COVID-19 is still circulating at higher levels.
Barring any new and concerning coronavirus variants, some officials predict that the updated COVID-19 shots could be the start of recommended boosters for Americans each year, similar to how updated annual flu vaccines are given.
“For a majority of Americans, one shot a year will provide a very high degree of protection against serious illness, and that’s what we’ve got to be focused on,” Dr. Ashish Jha, White House coronavirus response coordinator, told CNN last week. “Maybe for some high-risk people — the elderly, the immunocompromised — they may need protection more than once a year, but for a majority of Americans, that’s where it is, and I think that’s a really good place to be.”
Where and when to get COVID-19 booster and flu shot
The updated COVID-19 vaccine booster and seasonal flu vaccines are available at most pharmacies, doctor’s offices and health care clinics.
Not only are US health officials encouraging people to get both shots this year, some local public health departments are planning to schedule joint vaccine clinics, said Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
“Jurisdictions are going to be standing up joint flu and COVID vaccine clinics and other opportunities for people to get both their flu vaccine and their COVID updated booster together,” Freeman said, adding that there is “no problem at all” with getting both shots at or around the same time.
The hope is for joint clinics to make it more convenient and accessible for people to get their vaccinations — but not everyone might be interested or even eligible to get both vaccines at the same time. Plus, some say it’s still early to get a flu shot.
A single dose of the updated COVID-19 booster is recommended at least two months after the initial vaccine series or your most recent booster.
“Now, suppose you’ve recovered from COVID — and many people of course have had COVID this summer — wait three months, at least,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
He added that it’s important to get your booster as soon as you are eligible.
“It’s clear that whether you’re vaccinated or you’ve had COVID, if you get this booster, you will get much higher levels of antibody and they are thought to help us get more prolonged protection,” he said. “The other thing that happens is that the immune system responds more broadly, and it looks as though we will get more broad coverage against other variants.”
As for the flu shot, the recommended timing of vaccination for this flu season is similar to last season, according to the CDC’s website.
“For most people who need only one dose for the season, September and October are generally good times to get vaccinated,” according to the CDC, adding that while “ideally” it’s recommended to get vaccinated by the end of October, vaccination after October can still provide protection during the peak of flu season.
“The ideal time is during the month of October and maybe the first couple of weeks of November — and the reason I say that is, particularly for older people and people who are frail, that will help their protection extend well through February into March, and that’s when flu often peaks in the United States in February,” Schaffner said. “Everyone ages 6 months and older should get influenza vaccine.”
As for children younger than 12, who are not eligible for the updated COVID-19 booster, Schaffner said parents should focus on getting their youngsters vaccinated with the primary series or booster they can get now.
“I would say, maintain the current schedule,” he said. “Because it’s quite clear the original still does a good job in protecting us against hospitalizations and more severe disease.”
Schaffner added that some people have asked him whether the COVID-19 vaccine protects against flu or vice versa. They do not.
“You do have to get both vaccines,” he said. “The COVID vaccine will not protect against flu. The flu vaccine will not protect against COVID.”
Bracing for possible COVID-19 surge
Last week, the Biden administration announced its plan to manage COVID-19 this fall as there is the potential for an increase in infections, in part due to waning immunity from vaccines and infection.
“Additionally, as the weather gets colder and people spend more time indoors, contagious viruses like COVID-19 can spread more easily,” the announcement says. “And, as we saw last fall with the emergence of Omicron, we must continue to stay prepared for the possibility of a potential new variant of concern.”
The White House continues to call on Congress to pass additional funding for COVID-19 response, having asked for an updated $22.4 billion last week. GOP Sen. Mitt Romney said that passing that funding would be “a very hard lift.”
The administration’s plan to manage COVID-19 this fall includes focusing on encouraging updated booster vaccinations and making them easy to access, as well as ensuring that people have easy access to at-home rapid tests and treatments. That includes the purchase of 100 million additional at-home rapid tests from domestic manufacturers, the White House said.
The US Department of Health and Human Services “will launch a paid media campaign aimed at increasing COVID-19 vaccination, with a focus on those over age 50, as well as Black, Hispanic, rural, Asian American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native audiences through TV, radio, digital and print outlets.”
The administration is also boosting “easy access to COVID-19 testing and treatments” but warned, “While the lack of additional COVID-19 funding from Congress puts constraints on what we are able to do, the Administration will do everything in its power to ensure that tests and treatments remain widely available and easy to access, and will encourage Americans to use them.”
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CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed to this report.