Flu shots: frequently asked questions
You may know that a yearly flu shot is one of the best ways to help protect yourself and your family from the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Medical Association (AMA).1 But you may have more questions before you get your flu shot this year — like when to get one and what’s covered. Here are answers to some of the more common questions we’re hearing about flu shots.
Flu shot basics
Flu shots at designated retail pharmacies and clinics are covered at 100% for most benefit plans. Check your benefit plan details or call the number on your member ID card to be sure you’re covered at the flu shot location you choose. Remember to bring your member ID card when you visit network providers for your flu shot.
If you have a UnitedHealthcare health plan, you can get a flu shot at more than 50,000 locations. And the flu vaccine is covered at 100% for most benefit plans, which means you can get a flu shot at no additional cost to you.
It’s generally recommended that people get a flu shot by the end of October, according to the CDC.2 That’s especially important this year with the possible combination of COVID-19 and flu season. The flu season can linger through March so be sure you’re protected. No matter when you get your flu vaccine, it will still be valuable to help protect you for the rest of the flu season. Talk to your provider about the best time to get your flu shot.
A yearly flu shot is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older, even healthy people.2
It’s especially important for people who are at high risk of serious complications to get the flu shot. If you’re in this group, you may also want to ask about the pneumonia vaccine. These groups include:
- Adults 65 years and older
- Pregnant women
- Young children under 2 years old
- Those with specific health conditions
Even if you’re healthy, a yearly flu shot is recommended by the CDC and AMA. In fact, it’s recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older. It’s one of the best ways to help protect yourself and your family against seasonal flu, according to the CDC.1
The flu shot has been shown to have many benefits including reducing the risk of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and even the risk of flu-related death in children.3
The flu shot is recommended as a yearly vaccine for a couple of reasons per the CDC.4
- The flu vaccine offers people immunity protection only for a period of time. Since the protection lessens over time, a yearly vaccine adds the protection boost needed for each flu season.
- Flu viruses are constantly changing. To keep up with these changes, flu vaccines may be updated from one season to the next. That way, the vaccine may help protect against the viruses that may be most common during the upcoming flu season.
Flu and COVID-19
Flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses.
- COVID-19 is caused by infection with a coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2)
- Seasonal flu is caused by an infection with one of many influenza viruses that spread among people each year
Some symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, so you may need to be tested to tell what virus is causing your illness. It’s possible to be infected with both a flu virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 at the same time.
Use our COVID-19 testing locator to find a diagnostic testing center near you.
COVID-19 and the flu will likely both be spreading this season, according to the CDC. Protecting yourself from the flu with a flu shot helps reduce your risk of serious illness and hospitalization.5 That’s important this year because there continue to be concerns about hospital capacity with the ongoing spread of COVID-19. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine will give you the best protection. You can even get them at the same time.5 Ask your doctor if you have more questions about how these vaccines can help protect you.
Yes. Flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines can be given at the same time, according to the CDC.5 Ask your doctor if you have more questions about these vaccines.
Common health concerns about flu shots
This is a popular myth, but a flu shot cannot cause flu illness.4 The most common flu shot reaction in adults may be soreness, redness or swelling at the spot where the shot was given. This usually lasts less than two days. This initial soreness is most likely the result of the body’s early immune response reacting to a foreign substance entering the body. Other reactions following the flu shot may be mild and can include a low-grade fever and aches. If these reactions occur, they usually begin soon after the shot and last 1-2 days.
You may experience mild side effects associated with getting a flu shot or a nasal spray flu vaccine, such as soreness, fever, headache or muscle aches. Side effects generally don’t last long and tend to be minor when compared to the symptoms of a bad case of flu.
Some people who get the flu vaccine may still get sick with the flu. However, several CDC studies have shown that getting the flu shot may help reduce the severity of illness.3 Here are a few possible reasons you might still get the flu after having a flu shot:3
- If you were exposed to a flu virus before getting vaccinated or before the vaccination takes effect
- Some flu viruses are not included in the seasonal flu vaccine. Since there are many different flu viruses that circulate every year, the vaccine may not protect you from all of them
- In some cases, people do get infected, even with the flu shot. It can depend on your overall health, as people who are healthier may gain more immunity from the vaccine
In any case, the flu shot is still one of the best ways to help protect yourself against flu viruses, according to the CDC.3
While the cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses that may share a number of symptoms, they’re caused by different viruses. Colds are most often caused by more than 200 different viruses, while the flu is caused by three types of influenza virus. Also, the effects of the flu are usually more severe than a cold and may lead to more serious complications such as pneumonia.
Yes, there are prescription medications called antiviral drugs that may be a treatment option if you are at high risk of serious flu complications and get flu symptoms.6 Antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by 1 or 2 days. They can also help prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia. Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics, which fight against bacterial infections.
If you are experiencing common flu-like symptoms such as cough, sore throat and headache, one convenient way to get care without having to leave home is by scheduling a virtual care or telehealth visit. Virtual care allows you to connect with a provider on your computer, tablet or mobile phone from the comfort of home.
If you get your health insurance through work, talk to your local health care provider to learn about available virtual visit options. Or sign in to myuhc.com to learn more about coverage for 24/7 Virtual Visits with preferred national providers.
Pneumonia is a lung infection and one of the most common preventable illnesses that causes death in the U.S., according to the CDC. Vaccines can help prevent infection by some of the bacteria and viruses that can cause pneumonia, and you can get the flu vaccine and a pneumococcal vaccine at the same time. Children younger than 2 years old, adults 65 or older, those who live with certain chronic illnesses or those who have a weakened immune system are more likely to get pneumococcal pneumonia, a potentially serious illness that could result in hospitalization. Talk with your or your child’s health care professional to see if a pneumococcal vaccine is right for you.
More ways you can help protect yourself against the flu
After you get your flu shot, continue to take steps to protect yourself and others from the flu and from COVID-19. That means frequent hand-washing, wearing a cloth mask and keeping a safe distance when you’re in public spaces. Here are more ways you can help protect yourself and your community:
If you’re feeling sick, stay home
Wash your hands throughout the day, especially after you’ve been in a public place or if you sneeze or cough
Avoid close contact with others and maintain a physical distance from others when you’re in public spaces
Wear a cloth mask to cover your mouth and nose when you’re around others. This helps protect others in case you may be infected
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily, like doorknobs, tables, countertops, phones and more