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Question

Do college students and teens need a flu shot?

Flor Muñoz, MD, MSc, FAAP

Answer

​Yes. A flu shot is especially important this year, and they should get their COVID-19 shot or booster dose, too.

You may have heard of recent flu outbreaks on college campuses. Flu viruses are known to spread quickly among college students and teens. Group social activities, crowded classrooms and shared living spaces make it easier for the flu to be passed around to others.

If you are a college student or the parent of a college student or teen, be sure that they get their flu vaccine as soon as possible.

Can't they get their shot at home during the school break?

Don't wait. It is not possible to know when flu season will get into full swing. Also, it takes a couple of weeks to develop full protection after vaccination. That's why it is best to be fully vaccinated before the season starts. Flu vaccination is the best way to prevent flu from spreading, which is why their best bet is to get the flu shot before traveling. Most college health clinics offer influenza vaccine for students.

For college students, a flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine are recommended this season. You can receive a flu shot and a COVID-19 shot at the same visit.

COVID-19 vaccination will not protect against flu. All eligible teens and college students are encouraged to get the COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine. Both vaccines are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and they can be given at the same time safely.

Isn't it too late to get a flu shot?

Flu activity often starts in October, peaks in February and can last into May. This season, it is not likely that flu activity will be as low as it was during the pandemic. Experts think that the number of people with flu was so low because of the strict COVID-19 prevention measures. This year, the influenza virus is expected to circulate among people and cause disease, just like other respiratory viruses have done since the summer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is already investigating several reports of flu outbreaks involving a strain of influenza A virus, including at college campuses in several states. The flu vaccine protects against four flu virus strains, including an influenza A virus strain that is like the strain linked to these outbreaks.

What about antiviral drugs?

If someone is sick with the flu, antivirals can help shorten their illness. But antiviral drugs are a second line of defense that can be used to treat flu if you get sick. They are not a substitute for getting a flu vaccine.

Anyone who has a higher risk of serious illness from the flu should get antivirals right away if they get sick with the flu, regardless of their vaccination status. To be most effective, antiviral drugs must be taken as soon as possible after symptoms start.

Remember

The flu vaccine is the best way to help prevent seasonal flu and its potentially serious complications. By getting a flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine, college students can help prevent viruses from spreading to others in their community who are most at risk of getting very sick or going to the hospital.

More information

Flor Muñoz, MD, MSc, FAAP

Flor Muñoz, MD, MSc, FAAP, is associate professor of Pediatrics and Infectious Diseases at Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine. She is an investigator in various projects focusing on vaccines and the epidemi​ology of respiratory infections, including those supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She has published extensively on topics related to vaccines and influenza. Dr Muñoz is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases (AAP COID – 2015-2021) and of the American College of Gynecologists (ACOG) Immunization Expert Group. She also serves on the Influenza Work Group of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).​

Last Updated
12/13/2021
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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