College Students and the Flu: COVID edition


I’m young and healthy. Do I need a flu shot?

Being strong and healthy does not mean an individual will not get the flu. Plus, the flu vaccine not only protects you, but also others you come in contact with including those who are more at-risk (such as young children, elderly adults, and people with a suppressed immune system).  It is also important to help protect people who may not be able to receive the flu shot due to severe allergies or being younger than 6 months of age.

Fall campus scene on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. December 3, 2019. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

I’m strict about COVID precautions. Won’t that also protect me from the flu? 

The same precautions will protect you from COVID-19 and influenza, but the fact that COVID-19 cases are still on the rise in the United States means that not everyone is wearing masks, distancing, and taking the other precautions necessary. Unfortunately, even those who do everything they can may still be at risk for COVID and the flu. 

Getting the flu shot is more important than ever this year. Flu vaccination can help prevent the dreaded “twindemic” of both flu and COVID-19 spreading at the same time. Reducing the risk of flu will help reduce the risk of overwhelming medical resources or catching both at the same time.

Another reason to get your flu shot is that influenza and COVID-19 have similar symptoms including fever, body aches, dry cough, and fatigue. We hope you don’t, but if you do come down with the shared symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza, wouldn’t you rather know that you’ve had your flu vaccine? Wouldn’t your doctor want to know?

So even if you are doing everything you can to protect yourself from COVID-19, get your flu shot to help reduce the system-wide risk that we’ll face a dual epidemic. And do it for your own peace of mind, in case you’re unlucky enough to come down with a fever and body aches sometime this season.

Does the flu shot cause the flu? 

Nope. Think of it this way: if I show you a few doors, radiator, some tires, wheels, leather bucket seats, windshield and tail lights – you will recognize this as a car, but that car is nonfunctional. It doesn’t possess all of its parts, it’s not put together and will not be able to run you over; this is the same way the flu vaccine works. The vaccine presents your immune system non-functional pieces of a flu virus so that your body can recognize it and help plan a defense against it should an infection with the full-functioning, attacking virus occur.

Some people may feel ill after getting the flu shot. Mild side effects are common after the flu shot – low grade fever, sore arm, headaches, and muscle aches. The flu vaccine also takes some time to be effective (up to 2 weeks). If you were exposed to the flu before the vaccine kicked in or you encountered another virus, you can get the ill. Flu vaccines only protect against the specific strains of influenza included in the vaccine.

Does getting the flu shot completely protect me from getting the flu?

Flu vaccines are about 40-60% effective, depending on the year and how well the vaccine matches the strains of influenza circulating in a community. Even though it’s not perfect, it is still really important to get the flu vaccine because even if you do happen to get the flu after getting the flu shot, your illness should be milder and for a shorter duration than if you neglected to receive the flu shot at all.

If I’m allergic to eggs, can I still get the flu shot? 

Yup! Even if you have a severe egg allergy, you can get a flu vaccine. However – most available flu vaccines are made by propagating the virus in eggs and may contain very small amounts of egg proteins. People who have mild symptoms (like hives) when they eat eggs can get any flu vaccine appropriate for their age and health. People who have severe symptoms of egg allergy can get a vaccine made without eggs or they can get a vaccine in a medical setting where the healthcare team monitors for symptoms of allergy and be ready to treat if there is a reaction.

When and where can I get vaccinated?

The best time to get your flu shot is right now: late September to early October.

Flu shots are available outside of Campus Health at the loading dock from 1-5pm Mon-Friday and during open hours at Student Stores Pharmacy (M-F 9-5, Sat 11-3). No appointment needed! Living elsewhere? Find vaccines near you.

Count it!

Wherever you get vaccinated, count it for UNC to win a three-peat national championship in flu vaccines at go.unc.edu/flushot.  

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