Everything’s all pumpkin spice and everything nice once Sept. 1 rolls around — that is, until the sniffling starts. I mean, if pharmacies promoted flu shots the way Starbucks pushes out PSLs, the world would be a much healthier place, IMO. But instead, every year, people are faced with the same gray area of flu shot details they just aren’t sure of, like where to get one, how to pay for it, and whether or not getting the flu shot when you have a cold is OK, since you’ll probably be battling sinus congestion from now until spring. One would assume getting a shot to protect you from disease might even help the common cold subside, but you can never be too sure, which is why I reached out to experts in the space for clarification. After all, do you really want to have to get the flu shot twice? Because I sure don’t.
First things first, though, let’s define what a cold actually is. For starters, common cold season might overlap with flu season, but a common cold is not the flu. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the common cold is a respiratory infection that causes mild flu-like symptoms, such as a “cough, sore throat, sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, and muscle or body aches,” but the flu stems from a different virus. In other words, the flu shot isn’t going to cure your cold. It’s not even caused by the same family of germs.
But just because one doesn’t necessarily have to do with the other, that doesn’t mean you should race to your doctor’s office or local pharmacy to get the vaccine if you’re dealing with a nasty cold. You technically can, but from what I can tell, the jury’s out on whether or not you actually should. On the one hand, Lyndsey Lord, RN, vice president of clinical services at Cipherhealth, highly recommends waiting it out until your cold goes away. When your body is hit with a cold, stomach bug, or sinus infection, your immune system works to fight that ailment, she tells Elite Daily, and “due to the stress this places on the body, it is suggested to wait until that passes to get vaccinated” — which totally makes sense, right? You should let your body protect itself from one illness at a time.
However, Papatya Tankut, vice president of pharmacy affairs at CVS Pharmacy, says that as soon as the flu vaccine is available, as long as you aren’t battling any severe cold symptoms, you’ve got the green light to get vaccinated. “If you're sick with a cold or other mild illness (respiratory or otherwise), and you don't have a fever, you can absolutely still get your flu vaccine,” Tankut tells Elite Daily. “If you have a fever, the CDC recommends that you should hold off on getting the flu vaccine until it breaks.”
Are you totally confused right now? Don't worry, I was, too. But even though there seems to be a fine line between whether or not experts think you should or shouldn’t get the flu shot when you have a cold, thankfully Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, has offered a general rule of thumb to abide by come flu and cold season: If your body isn’t in tip-top shape, it won’t react to the flu shot the way it needs to in order to be effective. In other words, wait it out, and use your best judgment. Only you truly know what your body is feeling.
“If you have a mild illness, such as a cold or the sniffles, it’s not [enough of a reason to abstain from getting] a flu shot,” Glatter says. At the same time, though, if your body is experiencing mild to severe cold symptoms, like a fever or chills, Glatter tells Elite Daily that your best bet is to get the shot when you’re feeling better. “If you have a moderate to severe illness, your body won’t produce an adequate response to the vaccine,” he explains. Plus, if you do end up getting the shot, and experience those kinds of sick-like reactions to the vaccine like headaches, muscle aches, and/or a low grade fever, it’s going to be tricky to decipher whether what you’re feeling is a reaction to the shot, or a progression of the illness your body was already fighting off.
But here’s an interesting loophole for you: According to Tankut, the flu shot is still effective, at least to some degree, even if you get it a) when you’re already under the weather, or b) have already caught a strain of the flu this season. “Different strains of the flu circulate each season, so don’t assume that if you have already had the flu, you will not get it again,” Tankut warns. “If you have already had the flu this season, you should still make it a priority to receive the flu shot.”
So to recap, here’s what you need to remember: If you’re at the tail end of a common cold, and your body feels pretty much back to normal, it’s totally fine to get the flu shot. If you’re experiencing some heinous symptoms, however — like your head feels like it’s going to explode, and your body temperature is above the standard 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit — sit the shot out until your body’s had enough time to rest and revive itself.
Once you’re cleared by your doctor to get the vaccine, the next question is, where should you go to get it done? Tankut tells Elite Daily that all CVS Pharmacies and Minute Clinics offer flu shots every day, seven days a week, no appointment necessary. Lord also adds that most local pharmacies offer this service, as do urgent care clinics, and physician offices. And according to statistics from the CDC, five to 20 percent of the U.S. population catches the flu every year, so it's really important to make sure you get the shot as soon as your body is ready in order to prevent the onset of an even more serious illness.