October 14, 2021

CDC Recommends Flu Shots to Prevent a ‘Potentially Severe Flu Season’

By
Stephen Massey
Managing Director, Health Action Alliance

Employers should promote flu shots even as they continue to encourage and require COVID-19 vaccination.

The U.S. is “at risk of a potentially severe flu season” this year, according to the CDC. The best defense—just as it is with COVID-19—is vaccination, which public health experts urge for almost all people 6 months and older, starting now. But new polling shows that while most people acknowledge that flu shots provide the best protection, only 42% of adults ages 18-64 intend to get one. Giving in to “vaccine fatigue” is risky for employers, however. 

Health-related absenteeism nearly doubles at the peak of a severe flu season, compared to the lowest time of year. Faced with the current labor market challenges and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, employers should take straightforward steps to educate and encourage their employees to get vaccinated for the flu—even as you do the same for COVID-19.

Employers can expect questions about the flu shot, unique to these times:

  • Does the COVID-19 vaccine protect me against the flu? (No.)
  • Can you get the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time? (Yes.)
  • Will a flu shot raise my risk of getting COVID-19? (No.)

Answering these questions, making it easier for employees to get flu shots, and pointing them to additional resources, like GetMyFluShot.org and VaccinateYourFamily.org, can help your workers and customers stay healthy during flu season.


Employer Actions for Flu Season

As businesses continue to encourage and even require COVID-19 vaccines, they should also encourage employees to get their annual flu shot. You can make it easier for employees by taking one or more of the following actions: 

  • Host a flu shot clinic. Numerous pharmacies and other providers can assist in bringing this service to your workplace. Consider making it available to workers’ families, too—vaccinating children against the flu will make their families healthier and reduce absenteeism from parents caring for their sick children at home.
  • Offer flexible time off for employees to get flu shots if you can’t host a clinic on-site. 
  • Make flu shots part of your workplace health messaging. When you speak to employees about COVID-19 vaccination, encourage them to get a flu shot, too. Use the resources below to head off any doubts they may have about the flu shots—and keep in mind that research shows they may be more receptive to hearing about “flu shots” than the “flu vaccine.”
  • Confirm and enhance health insurance coverage for flu shots. If your health insurance provider covers flu shots, communicate that to your employees. And if it doesn’t, consider expanding that coverage for 2022.
  • While vaccines are the most effective defense against the flu, support employees who choose to wear a mask during flu season. A survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases found that over half of U.S. adults plan to wear a mask during flu season. Make sure masked-up employees know that flu shots are available, encouraged, and covered by most health plans.
  • Spread the word to your employees and on social media. Print-ready materials and social media graphics and messaging can be found in the resources below.



Questions and Answers About the Flu and COVID-19


Q: Why are we at risk of a severe flu season this year, but not last fall and winter?

A: Last year, flu transmission was kept at historically low levels when many people were social distancing, wearing masks, and staying home. As a result, we have less natural immunity from the flu this year. The flu shots is our best protection.


Q: What’s the difference between the flu and COVID-19?

A: Flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. The CDC has more information on how the symptoms and contagiousness compare.


Q: Can I have flu and COVID-19 at the same time?

A: Yes. Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, you may need a test to tell you if you are sick with one or the other, or both. 


Q: If I get sick with flu, am I at higher risk of contracting COVID-19?

A: Because COVID-19 is still a relatively new illness, there is little data on how flu illness affects the risk of getting COVID-19. We do know that people can be infected with flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 at the same time. Getting vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19 provides the best protection from both viruses.

 

Q: Will a flu shot protect me against COVID-19?

A: No, the flu shot will not protect against COVID-19. 


Q: Will the flu shot increase my risk of getting COVID-19?

A: No, there is no evidence for this.

 

Q: Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu shot at the same time?

A: Yes. You can get them together, usually in separate arms. 

 

Q: Is the flu shot effective?

A: Yes, typically, the flu shot reduces the risk of getting sick with the flu by 40-60%. It’s even more effective in preventing serious flu-related complications like hospitalization and death, most of which occur in people who are not vaccinated. 

 

Q: Are the side effects worse this year?

A: The side effects remain constant from year to year. The most common side effects from flu shots are soreness, redness, tenderness, or swelling where the shot was given. Some people also report having a low fever, headache, and muscle aches after getting their flu shot. 


Additional Resources


Frequently Asked Questions for the 2021-2022 Flu Season


Print handouts from Vaccinate Your Family


Social media toolkits


Videos