Now that flu season’s just around the corner, University of New Mexico Health recommends people get their flu shots and COVID-19 vaccine boosters at the soonest opportunity — especially factoring in risks that come with the Delta variant and impending holiday travel.

“We know that people at the extremes of age, young children and older adults, don’t do very well with the flu. Even before COVID, they didn’t do very well with the flu. They were more likely to get sick or hospitalized or even die from the flu. Protecting people against influenza, especially people at the extremes of ages, is a good idea,” said Dr. Melissa Martinez, who specializes in internal medicine and vaccines with UNM Health.

Martinez said it’s particularly important that pregnant women get vaccinated as soon as possible, and children under the age of 8 who never previously had a flu shot may need two doses spaced four weeks apart.

She also said she recommends the elderly get their COVID vaccine boosters once they’re available.

“While the COVID vaccine gives them some protection right now, it’ll just boost the amount of protection that they get, so I think it’s a good idea to get it,” Martinez said.

Dr. Melissa Martinez.
(Courtesy of UNM Health Sciences)

Pfizer announced on Sept. 20 that a 10-microgram dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 30 micrograms for adults, is safe for kids ages 5-11.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still have to decide whether to approve emergency use of the vaccine for that age group.

Pfizer has full FDA approval for those 16 and up, plus emergency-use approval for those ages 12-15.

In the meantime, Martinez said children in the 5-11 age group should still get their flu shots.

“We can’t protect children right now with vaccines against COVID. That’s where all the social distancing and wearing masks and things is very, very important,” she said.

Martinez also said people that get the flu and COVID at the same time don’t fare well, and they may not be able to differentiate the flu from COVID.

“It may cause them to go to the emergency room, where they’d have additional exposures. So, it’s better to get the flu shot. It’s really important for children,” she said.

Citing the CDC’s recommendation, Martinez said the flu and COVID shots can be given at the same time in separate arms.

“People can choose to do that. I don’t think they necessarily have to do that,” she said. “But if the only way somebody’s going to get both vaccines is to get it at the same time, and they have the opportunity, then they can certainly do that.”

Martinez also said the biggest risk of getting both vaccines at the same time may be additional side effects.

However, she said the science concluded both can be given concurrently.

Although Moderna’s working on developing a single-shot dose containing both the flu and COVID vaccine, Martinez said that method isn’t licensed yet.

That’s why it’s all the more imperative to schedule a flu shot appointment and COVID vaccine appointment, she said.

“I think they’re both serious, deadly diseases. Getting both of those vaccines is important,” Martinez said.