Should I space out my flu and COVID booster shots?

(NEXSTAR) – Judging from how the flu has roared back in Australia and other countries south of the Equator, experts are predicting a particularly nasty season for the U.S. this winter. At the same time, many Americans are also making plans to strengthen their defenses against COVID-19 with the omicron-specific booster, but should they be taken at the same time?

Experts say there’s no danger in taking them simultaneously. With COVID already spreading and peak flu season still months away, some people may choose to wait on the flu vaccine.

It depends on how reliable you find yourself to be,” Dr. Jeffrey Kopin, Chief Medical Officer for Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, told Nexstar’s WGN Radio. “What do I mean by that? If one does want to put off getting the influenza vaccine and wait towards the latter part of October [or] first part of November, that’s a good strategy for people [as] we’re not seeing that much influenza yet … but you’ve got to be able to rely on yourself, you got to to remember to go in and actually get the influenza vaccine.”

Kopin emphasized that everyone who qualifies to get the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine should go ahead and get it to protect against the omicron strains that are already circulating across the country. So if you know there’s a chance you’ll forget to go back for the flu vaccine, Kopin recommends getting them together.

So too, does the White House.

“The good news is you can get both your flu shot and COVID shot at the same time.  It’s actually a good idea,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s COVID response coordinator said during recent press conference. “I really believe this is why God gave us two arms — one for the flu shot and the other one for the COVID shot.”

Some people, however, wonder if rushing out to get the flu shot in September might leave them with their vaccine-boost fading during late winter months. If you aren’t worried about forgetting to get the shot entirely and don’t mind making a second trip, experts agree there is some benefit to delaying the flu shot.

“If you get it too early, there’s clear evidence that it wanes off by the end of the season,” Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The Hill. “Traditionally, it peaked around February. So if you’re getting a flu shot now in early September, you can’t expect it to be that effective at the tail end of the flu season. So I’ve always recommended people get their flu vaccine sometime in late October.”  

Experts are encouraging people to get the flu vaccine as the upcoming season is expected to be rough. Flu cases plummeted during the pandemic thanks to masks, social distancing and other precautions, leading to less exposure and less natural immunity.

Judging from this year’s case counts from the Southern Hemisphere – where summer in the U.S. is winter – it looks like the experts might be right.

Australia had 600 cases of influenza recorded by laboratories in 2021, a number that jumped to over 217,000 this year, which is closer to a normal flu season. Public health officials told Bloomberg late last month they expect the final tally could be similar to to that of 2019, which brought a record number of infections.