Q&A on the influenza vaccine (flu vaccine)

Posted on September 09, 2020   |   

This article was written by Kristen Willard, MS and updated in August 2021 by Stephanie Williams, BS, RRT

An Interview with Dr. Barbara Yawn, COPD Foundation Chief Clinical Officer

We recently spoke with Dr. Barbara Yawn about questions related to the flu vaccine and people with COPD. Here are some of her answers.

I am 70 years old and have COPD. What kind of flu vaccine should I get?

Anyone 65 or older will want to ask for the high-dose quadrivalent influenza or flu vaccine. This type is given to older adults, because as we age, our immune systems are not as responsive. It has four times as much of the antigen or material that produces the immune or protective response. We want to give more antigen to our bodies (which is what prompts our immune response) so our bodies have a better chance of responding.

While the type of vaccine that is just sprayed into the nose sounds like a great idea, you will need to get the injected vaccine rather than the intranasal version. The intranasal version does not work well in adults, especially older adults and is not approved for or paid for use in adults over 40 years of age.

When should I get the flu vaccine?

The best time to get the flu vaccine is in September or October. You do not need to get the vaccine as early as July or August. We want you to wait so the protection lasts throughout the entire flu season which in recent years has extended into the early spring.

Where should I get my flu shot?

You can get the flu shot at a doctor’s office, pharmacies, clinics and other places. To find a location near you that has the flu shot, you can do a search starting here. You can also call your local health department or your primary care provider.

Consider a few points:

  • If the location you pick to receive your vaccine is busy and crowded, it may not be a good choice unless you know of a day and time when it is less crowded. If you do not know, call the location.
  • Consider the steps they are taking to protect people against coronavirus infection (for example, scheduling individual vaccination appointments, wearing masks and gloves, allowing patients to wait in their cars until their appointment times).
  • Are they running a shot clinic? You can ask your primary care provider if they have times to give you a shot without an appointment. Call ahead.
  • Research “drive-thru” flu shot clinics in your area.
  • If you live in an assisted living facility, your medical or nursing staff will almost always provide you a flu shot.
  • Do not go to the emergency room (ER) or an urgent care facility to get your shot. If you are already in the hospital or at urgent care for another reason, you can request the shot then, but do not make that the reason you go initially.

I have heard that sometimes the flu shot doesn’t work very well. Is it still worth it?

Yes, particularly now, during the COVID-19 pandemic. No one knows for sure how well the flu shot will work from year to year, as scientists make educated guesses as to what strains of the flu are likely to be common in any given flu season.

The CDC estimates the vaccine reduces influenza by 40%-60% during those years when the vaccine is a good match to flu types that have been affecting communities.

Remember, the influenza or flu vaccine is particularly important for those people with chronic conditions like COPD. You can learn more about the flu vaccine from the CDC.

Can I get sick with the flu and COVID-19 at the same time?

Yes. These are different respiratory illnesses and you can have them both at once. It is particularly important for people with COPD to avoid these types of respiratory disease. Because they are different illnesses, the flu vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19. The flu vaccine is still important for you to get.

Can I get the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time?

Yes, you can. According to the CDC, people do not need to wait 14 days to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if they have had other vaccines, such as the flu vaccine. Of course, you may want to space them out to keep from having two sore arms at once.

To learn more about the flu season beginning in fall 2020, visit the CDC web site.

Did you watch our Facebook Live on the 2020-2021 influenza vaccine? You can catch the recording here!


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  • I am 73 with moderate to severe COPD. I receive the flu shot every year, without skipping. Last year I received the high dose injection and DID become ill. It was about three days, not dying but not well. I asked my pharmacist about instead taking the "regular" flu shot this year. She said that there are individuals, especially those with underlying issues, who may react to the high dose. She also said that it is not recommended to go back to the regular dosage because having received the high dosage the lower dose will not be as effective as it had been prior to the high dose. Also that odds are the reaction is only for the time as your system/body adjusts.

    I feel like I really rambled but I know how uneasy I was about a 2nd dose and feel much reassured. I find at times that my pharmacist is much more forthcoming than my pulmonologist. Good luck to all of us! Cynthia
    • Pharmacists are often very helpful, especially in terms of things like this.....they get that training and docs very often don't. Glad you got good answers!
    • Thank you for this; I, too, had a reaction to last year's flu shot -- mine lasted about a week and included an intermittent fever, aches/chills, fatigue, and diarrhea. I was going to ask for the 'regular' one this year, but you've convinced me that maybe it was a one-shot deal. Not sure if I completely believe that because the flu shots (as I understand it -- could be mistaken) are reconfigured every year...

  • Thank you, cynthiajk, for this interesting post.

    Jean's right. Pharmacists can be a big help. And it's nice that they can take the time to respond to questions and concerns.
  • Do you all have a plan for getting your flu shot this year? Doctor's office, pharmacy, clinic... some other place?
  • Hello chenthiajk,

    For information on the different strengths of flu shots, read Kristen's interview with Dr. Barbara Yawn and a video with additional questions and answers. It should help answer a lot of your questions!