Flu Season Information
Last updated: 11/15/2023
The most effective means to limit the spread of illness is to get a flu vaccine.
Getting vaccinated against influenza (flu) is the best way to protect ourselves and our family, friends, and colleagues from the flu. The flu vaccine is a protective measure– you cannot get the flu from it.
An annual flu vaccine is strongly recommended for all members of the Columbia community.
How to get a flu vaccine
Make an appointment at a nearby pharmacy. Students on the Columbia Student Health Insurance Plan can get a flu vaccine at their local pharmacy or primary care provider. There is no co-payment unless you request a high-dose flu vaccine.
If you received the flu vaccine outside of Columbia Health, please upload your documentation to the Patient Portal (step-by-step instructions) so Columbia Health can include it in your immunization record and more effectively monitor the public health situation in our community.
Schedule a nursing appointment to receive the vaccine at Medical Services by calling 212-854-7426 (vaccination appointments cannot be scheduled online). If you have an upcoming appointment for an unrelated matter, make sure to request your flu shot from your provider to receive it in the same visit.
Appointments are limited; if you are able to find an appointment at a pharmacy or other local vaccination site, we encourage you to get the vaccine as soon as possible. Flu vaccine appointments will not be available for the duration of the flu fairs.
Faculty and staff
Check with your insurance company to find out if you must go to a specific facility to receive the vaccine. Some insurance plans only cover vaccines given by your doctor or at a limited set of locations.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I get the flu and coronavirus at the same time?
Yes; and it is not yet known how common it will be for individuals to have both at the same time, or if the illnesses will be more severe if they occur together. Because the symptoms are similar, it may make it hard to tell whether one or both viruses might be causing illness.
Can the flu vaccine protect me against coronavirus? Am I more likely to get coronavirus if I get the flu vaccine?
No, the flu vaccine will only reduce the risk of getting sick from the flu or reducing the severity of the flu if you do get it. The flu vaccine will also not increase the risk of getting COVID-19. And, as more people get the flu vaccine, the potential burden on health resources is lessened which allows for health care services to be reserved for other issues.
Is it safe to get a COVID-19 vaccine if I have gotten a flu vaccine and vice versa?
Yes. The COVID-19 vaccine (primary series or booster dose) can be administered at the same time as the flu vaccine.
Are the flu and coronavirus prevention strategies the same?
Yes. The steps you take to prevent one also help prevent the other. Wearing face coverings, physical distancing, washing and sanitizing hands regularly, and staying home if not feeling well are all steps that help prevent the spread of flu and coronavirus.
Should I still get a flu vaccine even though we practice physical distancing?
Yes, you can safely get the flu vaccine. Flu vaccines may also be available at your health care provider’s office, your local department of health, or even pharmacies. The CDC has issued pandemic guidance for vaccines to health care professionals, so you can ask your health care provider if they are administering vaccines with that guidance.
Are there tests that will detect the flu and coronavirus?
Yes, there are different tests to detect whether a person has strain A or B of the influenza virus and to detect if a person has the SARS-COV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19).
What’s the difference between flu and coronavirus?
Both the flu virus and coronavirus (which causes COVID-19) are causes of contagious upper respiratory illnesses. The flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms, which can include fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, feeling tired, and headache. The severity of symptoms can vary, and those with the flu or a mild case of COVID-19 may be able to recuperate at home. One notable difference is that COVID-19 may also include loss of taste or smell, which is not a symptom associated with the flu. Testing may be necessary to determine which virus is causing illness. There is an antiviral treatment available for the flu, but not one widely available for COVID-19. The mortality rate for COVID-19 is also greater than that of the flu.
In what ways are the viruses similar?
The amount of time it can take between when a person is exposed to either virus and when they could experience symptoms is similar for flu (1-4 days) and coronavirus (2-14 days). However, people exposed to coronavirus may experience more of a delay between exposure to symptoms and be more contagious than those with the flu. A person with COVID-19 may also be contagious for a longer period of time (potentially up to 10 days after testing positive, this is still being studied) than a person with the flu (for about 7 days, but most contagious during first 3-4 days).
- Get a flu vaccine!
- Use good hand hygiene. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleansers are equally effective.
- Try to avoid casually touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Continue wearing masks indoors (and outdoors too).
- Avoid close contact, such as hugging or kissing, with others who are ill.
- Avoid sharing food, utensils, cups, and water bottles.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing.
- If you become ill, stay home and limit your contact with others to keep from exposing them.
- Disinfect surfaces with a household cleaner, focusing on light switches, handles, telephones, doorknobs, and other surfaces people touch frequently.
- Remain in your residence hall or at home for at least 24 hours after you no longer have a fever (without the use of medications that reduce fever, like Motrin or Tylenol).
CDC Guidelines for Seasonal Flu Shot
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued universal guidance recommending all individuals six (6) months of age or older receive the seasonal flu shot. It is especially important for those in the following high-risk groups to receive a shot due to the risk of serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk of developing flu-related complications:
- Pregnant women
- Children younger than five (5) years of age
- People 50 years of age or older
- People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (asthma, diabetes, etc.)
- People who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities
- People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from the flu, including:
- Healthcare workers
- Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications of the flu
- Household contacts or caregivers of children less than six (6) months old
The flu vaccine is generally safe and effective and utilizes an inactivated flu vaccine, which contains killed viruses. The flu vaccine protects against multiple flu viruses.