Doubling Up on Fall Vaccinations

October 5, 2020

Amid this unprecedented flu season, experts recommend co-administering flu and shingles vaccines.

Staying current on vaccinations during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is more important than ever before, according to the American College of Physicians (ACP), which urged adults to get immunized now against common but potentially serious diseases, including shingles (herpes zoster). 

“Although there are uncertainties with the current COVID-19 global health crisis, we know for sure the benefits of getting immunized for illnesses such as the flu, and that those vaccinations are safe and effective,” said ACP President Jacqueline W. Fincher, MD, MACP. “They protect against health problems, hospitalization, or even death. They also help prevent the spread of disease, especially among those who are most vulnerable to serious complications, such as the elderly and those with chronic conditions and weakened immune systems, which is particularly important now given the risks associated with COVID-19,” Fincher said.

In addition to the influenza and herpes zoster vaccines, other important adult immunizations recommended by ACP are Tdap (protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis); pneumococcal (protects against pneumococcal pneumonia, bacteremia, and meningitis); HPV (to prevent cervical, anal, and other cancers); and hepatitis A and B.

All vaccines should be administered according to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices guidelines for dosing and schedules. ACP encourages individuals to visit their health care provider, a pharmacy, or other community-based vaccine provider for flu shots and other necessary vaccines.

Shingrix is now the only vaccine available in the United States to protect against shingles and its complications. Introduced in 2017, its efficacy rate is over 90% across all age groups tested. It is licensed by the FDA for use in adults age 50 and over.

Marla Shapiro, CM, MDCM, a professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto, noted that Shingrix can be co-administered with both the flu and pneumococcal shots. She advised that healthcare providers should remind patients about other vaccines they may need when they come in for a flu vaccine.

“We co-administer vaccines safely to our babies all the time, and there’s no reason why we can’t to adults,” she explained. “If you’re going to feel a little crummy from the side effects of a vaccine, you might as well get them all at the same time—your flu shot, your shingles vaccine—and just lay low for 48 hours.”

Shapiro added that just as COVID-19 precautions like handwashing, mask wearing, social distancing, and staying home when ill are being emphasized now, healthcare professionals should promote vaccination against other diseases when indicated to protect their patients.

“Medicine is a team sport,” she concluded. “It’s not my job to keep you healthy, it’s our job to work together as the patient and the health care provider and the pharmacist. Having the conversation is very important among all of us.