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Time to Get Your Flu Shot and Your COVID-19 Booster, Too

Image of Senior MHS officials and medics from the Pentagon stand together Oct. 13 after receiving their flu shots and bivalent COVID-19 boosters..". Department of Defense leaders encourage Military Health System beneficiaries to get their annual flu shot concurrent with the COVID-19 bivalent booster. Here, senior military leaders pose with medics at DiLorenzo Pentagon Health Clinic after receiving both vaccines on Oct 13. From left to right: U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, joint staff surgeon; Seileen Mullen, acting assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs; U.S. Army Spc. Serena Nunez, medical records technician; U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Mychaela Cammack, noncommissioned officer in charge of primary care; Dr. Mike Malanoski, deputy director, Defense Health Agency; Dr. Dave Smith, acting principal deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs; Bill Saindon, executive medicine technician; and U.S. Army Sgt. Joshua Patti, medical readiness assistant NCOIC. Not pictured but also receiving vaccinations were U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. John DeGoes, U.S. Air Force deputy surgeon general, and U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Darin Via, U.S. Navy deputy surgeon general. Flu vaccines and COVID-19 bivalent booster vaccines are available at all military treatment facilities and through TRICARE-participating network pharmacies.

It’s shot season: Time again to get the annual influenza vaccination for you and your family. And this year, defense health officials are encouraging Military Health System beneficiaries to pair the flu shot with the COVID-19 bivalent vaccine booster if you’ve already had your primary vaccine series and are 12 and older.

U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps Rear Adm. Brandon Taylor, the director of Defense Health Agency Public Health, said vaccines greatly reduce the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, and how “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”

You can get the influenza and COVID-19 shots at the same time, but that doesn’t mean double the side effects.

“COVID-19 vaccinations used to be given separately due to concerns about possible immediate side effects,” said Dr. David Hrncir, regional medical director of the Central Vaccine Safety Hub, DHA-Immunization Healthcare Division.

“However, with the very large number of immunizations, immediate side effects following receipt of the COVID-19 vaccine have proven to be extremely rare,” he said.

The bivalent boosters protect against the original form of the infectious respiratory disease as well as against the dominant omicron variant and its subvariants, which continue to mutate to become more easily transmissible.

When and Where to Get the Flu Shot

Ideally, everyone 6 months and older should be vaccinated for flu by the end of October, said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Katie Martinez, deputy director of operations at IHD.
Nevertheless, getting the flu vaccine later can still offer protection, even if you get it in the fall or early winter.

All flu vaccines in the United States for the 2022-2023 season protect against four different circulating flu viruses.

There should be no shortage of vaccine. The Department of Defense “has received 100% of ordered flu vaccine, and 2 million doses have shipped to military medical treatment facility locations both CONUS and OCONUS for administration,” Martinez said.

“Shipments continue every week, and we recommend that beneficiaries check with their local military medical treatment facility for availability,” she noted.

All active-duty service members are required to get an annual flu shot. Vaccines are available to all MHS beneficiaries at military hospitals and clinics, at installation vaccination events, and through TRICARE participating network pharmacies. 

If you use a TRICARE-authorized provider, the flu shot itself comes at no cost, but when you get the vaccine from your provider, you may have a copay or cost-share for the office visit or for other services received during the office visit.

At-Risk Populations

It’s particularly important to get vaccinated against the flu and its potentially serious complications if you are at higher risk. 

CDC has a full list of age and health factors that mean an increased risk, but some of those populations are:

  • Immunocompromised
  • 5 years old and younger
  • 65 and older
  • Pregnant
  • Chronically ill

Influenza can cause significant illness, especially in children under 5. Getting the vaccine helps children protect themselves and more at-risk people they come in regular contact with, such as their grandparents or siblings under 6 months old.

Some children may need two doses of flu vaccine, CDC noted. Those children should get the first dose as soon as vaccine is available, because the second dose needs to be given at least four weeks after the first.

For those 65 and older, the CDC recommends one of three flu vaccines because they have shown in studies of older individuals to create a stronger immune response. These vaccines are:

If you have questions, consult with your provider about which vaccine is right for you, Martinez said.

Antiviral Treatment for Flu Symptoms

The CDC recommends treatment with antivirals for people who have flu or suspected symptoms and who are at higher risk of serious flu complications, such as people with asthma, diabetes, including gestational diabetes, or heart disease.

The antivirals work best when treatment is started within two days of becoming sick with flu symptoms and can lessen fever and flu symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by about one day, Martinez said.

When Will the Flu Season Start?

Flu season usually runs from October through May, peaking in December through February, but it can continue through June.

Global health organizations, including DHA, monitor influenza activity around the world so health agencies can work with industry to develop the best vaccines suited to the particular strains that are circulating.

One region they base their formulations on is the Southern Hemisphere. That’s because peak flu season is the fall and winter, and those seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere.

Hrncir said there was an “early influenza season in the Southern Hemisphere, so it is reasonable to expect an early influenza season this fall and winter in the Northern Hemisphere.”

The number of cases in Australia, for example, surpassed pre-COVID pandemic levels. However, since the start of the COVID pandemic in early 2020, the timing and duration of flu activity has been less predictable.

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Last Updated: October 30, 2023
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