The current surge of the pandemic, driven by the delta variant, has pushed the medical system to its limit, meaning that patients seeking treatment for other ailments, including influenza, may not be able to find care depending on where they live.
Experts have also expressed concern about the possibility of someone contracting the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. In 2020, experts said that both illnesses circulating at the same time could cause a "twindemic."
Luckily, vaccines are available for both illnesses. The coronavirus vaccines are safe and effective, and make it incredibly unlikely that a person will experience severe symptoms of the disease. Flu vaccines can be 40% to 60% effective at preventing illness when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the vaccines, and can help keep patients out of the hospital.
Dr. Natalie Azar, NBC News medical contributor, said now is a good time for people to start considering getting their annual flu vaccine. On TODAY, she answered a few common questions people have about the flu vaccine this year.
If flu numbers are low, do you really need to get the shot?
"You do. We didn't have a lot of flu last year, so we didn't build up any immunity from the flu last year. So experts are a little bit worried it could be worse for us, for that reason," Azar stressed. She added that getting a flu vaccination cuts down on the amount of flu circulating in a community, which benefits everyone.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
"The recommendation for most adults is to get it in September, by the end of October," Azar said, adding that people in their third trimester of pregnancy should get the flu shot as early as possible since it will confer antibodies to their child.
"Children can get it any time," Azar said. Any child over the age of 6 months is eligible for the flu shot. Most children over the age of 2 are also eligible for a nasal spray option.
On Sept. 7, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement saying that "all influenza immunization doses" should be completed by the end of October. Some children may require two doses of the flu vaccine, so parents should keep that in mind when planning.
"Children aged 6 months to 8 years who are receiving flu vaccine for the first time, who have had only one dose ever prior to July 1, 2021, or whose vaccination status is unknown should be vaccinated as soon as vaccines become available so that they can receive two doses four weeks apart by the end of October," said the statement, which also noted that data does not support "delaying vaccination in children."
Dr. Lauren Block, a primary care physician and researcher at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, said that it's important not to forget about the importance of flu shots during the pandemic.
"With COVID here and taking such a toll in terms of morbidity and mortality, we really have to do everything we can to protect ourselves," Block said. "That includes getting COVID vaccines, but also, don't forget about your annual flu vaccine."
Block said that there is no need to wait for any period of time between receiving the coronavirus vaccine and the flu shot. The AAP statement also allowed for coadministration of the COVID-19 vaccine with the flu vaccine.
"I've had a lot of patients who have had concerns, saying 'I just got my COVID vaccine,' or 'I'm thinking about going for a booster, does that mean I should wait to get my flu shot?' And the answer is no," Block said. "There's no need to wait the 14 days between the (coronavirus and flu) vaccines. It's fine to schedule your flu shot, and if you have not been vaccinated or was recommended for a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine, to get that as soon as possible as well."
What if I or my child have COVID-19?
According to the AAP, children who have moderate or severe cases of COVID-19 should not be vaccinated until they have recovered from the illness.
Block said that no one should receive the flu shot while symptomatic with COVID-19.
"Anyone who has COVID should absolutely wait until they're no longer contagious to really go anywhere, and that includes going to get preventive care," Block said. "It's one thing to go get care if you're sick, but if you're getting preventive health care, the CDC says that it takes at least 10 days since the beginning of symptoms for you to no longer be contagious so as a rule of thumb I usually tell my patients to wait two weeks after starting symptoms."
However, there is no need to delay vaccination after you or your child have recovered from COVID-19.
Is there anyone who shouldn't get the flu shot?
Block said that since influenza vaccines are "dead," or don't contain any live virus, people who are immunocompromised or pregnant can safely take them. If you have an allergy to an ingredient in the vaccine, talk to your doctor.
Children under the age of 6 months should not get the flu vaccine. Anyone currently experiencing a fever should not get a flu vaccine until their symptoms stop.
What is the "super flu" shot?
TODAY's Al Roker commented that since he is over 65, he received a high-dose version of the flu shot. The high-dose flu vaccines are intended to give people 65 and older better protection against the flu.
"The reason that we do that in older people is because when we get older we are not able to amount as robust an immune response," Azar said.
This story was updated on Oct. 7, 2021.