Photo of woman receiving a shot in the arm from a medical professional

With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic still affecting communities nationwide, getting your flu shot is especially important for the 2020-21 flu season. This is especially true for people with asthma, who are at higher risk for severe complications if they get the flu or COVID-19.

Symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 can be similar. Both attack the respiratory system and can involve fever, severe body aches, sore throat, dry cough and fatigue.

Given that 24+ million people in the United States have asthma, and 10 people die from the disease daily, protection against the flu is vital. Flu can increase inflammation of the airways and lungs, triggering asthma flares. Flu can also lead to life-threatening pneumonia or bronchitis.

Public health officials say that cases of COVID-19 and the flu could overwhelm hospitals and clinics this fall and winter. By getting the flu vaccine, you can not only protect yourself but also help reduce strain on the healthcare system and save medical resources, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Who needs a flu shot?

The flu vaccine should be given to all people 6 months of age or older, especially those who are at greater risk for flu complications. People who are at high risk for serious flu complications include:

  • people who are 65 years or older
  • people with chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma or COPD
  • pregnant women.

People with asthma are at high risk for flu complications even if their asthma is well controlled. Flu can result in inflamed airways and lungs and trigger asthma flares. People with asthma are more likely to develop pneumonia if they are sick with flu that people who do not have asthma.

The flu vaccine – available at your doctor’s office, community clinic, pharmacy and some supermarkets – is the best insurance against getting sick with the flu and passing it on to others in your family or community.

If you have COVID-19, suspect you may have COVID-19, or you are recovering from a cold, you should delay getting the flu vaccine until you are no longer ill.

The 2020-21 flu vaccine includes updates to influenza A (H1N1) and influenza A (H3N2), two of the most common strains of flu. Read the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) full update on the 2020-21 flu vaccine.

Will the flu shot help fight coronavirus?

The flu vaccine offers no protection from COVID-19 and it’s not a treatment for coronavirus, CDC says. Until a COVID-19 vaccine is available, the best protection is to wear a mask and maintain social distancing measures.

Is it possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time?

It is possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, CDC says. This could have a severe impact on the body’s immune system and lungs. it could also increase the risk of developing pneumonia. You may need to be hospitalized if you are diagnosed with both.

Is asthma a risk factor for serious outcomes from COVID-19?

CDC says the presence of asthma increases the risk for serious outcomes from COVID-19. For this reason, it is important to take preventive steps to avoid the flu if you have asthma so you don’t catch the flu and COVID-19.

What preventive steps are necessary for people with asthma?

First, make sure you have an Asthma Action Plan developed with your doctor. (You may need to update it during flu season.) Follow the Asthma Action Plan for taking quick-relief and daily controller medications. Make sure your child’s school has the Asthma Action Plan on file.

Take asthma medications exactly as your doctor prescribes. Quick-relief inhalers are for sudden symptoms while daily controller inhalers encourage long-term maintenance. Be sure you are using correct technique when using your inhaler so you can maximize the amount of asthma medication that reaches your lungs. Ask to demonstrate your technique with your doctor so you can ensure you’re using it properly.

Avoid asthma triggers that can cause you to have an asthma flare. Common triggers include:

  • pollen
  • mold
  • cigarette smoke
  • air pollution
  • pet dander
  • household pests such as mice, cockroaches and dust mites.

If you get sick with flu symptoms, call your doctor right away. The antiviral drug oseltamivir – commonly known as Tamiflu® – can be used in people with asthma but it is most effective if used within 48 hours after onset of symptoms. People with asthma should not use zanamivir (Relenza®) or peramivir (Rapivab®) because they may cause wheezing in people with asthma.

What are current recommendations for egg allergy and the flu vaccine?

People with egg allergies often believe they should avoid the flu vaccine. Most flu vaccines involve egg-based technology. But, severe reactions in people with egg allergy are unlikely. The rate of anaphylaxis from all vaccines is 1.31 for every 1 million vaccines given.

CDC has provided specific guidance on flu vaccine and egg allergy.

  • Any person with an egg allergy who only experiences hives should receive the flu vaccine.
  • Any person who has had an allergic reaction to egg should receive the flu vaccine, but it should be given in a medical setting where staff can identify and treat an allergic reaction.
  • Any person who has needed to use epinephrine to treat an allergic reaction to egg should receive the flu vaccine, but it should be given in a medical setting where staff can identify and treat an allergic reaction.
  • Any person who has experienced a severe allergic reaction to the flu vaccine should not receive a flu vaccine in the future.

 

For additional information:
Infections, Viruses and Influenza
COVID-19 Information Center
What if I Can’t Afford My Asthma Medication
Infographic: Distinguishing between COVID-19 vs Allergies vs Flu  

References
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/egg-allergies.htm#recommendations