Frequently Asked Questions

Flu Season/COVID-19 FAQs

During the fall and winter months of 2021 – 2022, flu and COVID-19 are likely to be active in our communities at the same time. It is critically important to do what you can to help protect both yourself and your family from both viruses. Vaccines are available for flu and COVID-19. Vaccination can reduce your risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death. It will also help protect your loved ones and your community by reducing spread of illness and reducing impact on hospital capacity.

For more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), visit Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Influenza (Flu).

It is possible to have flu and COVID-19 at the same time. It is not clear how often this has occurred. If you are at high risk for complications from either virus, contact your physician or seek medical care as soon as you notice symptoms. Your healthcare provider will determine whether you should be tested and treated for flu or COVID-19.

Although caused by different viruses, COVID-19 and flu are both contagious respiratory illnesses. They can have similar symptoms, at least at first, including:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Cough
  • Vomiting/diarrhea (more common in children)
  • Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing (can be more serious with COVID-19)
  • Loss of taste or smell (more common with COVID-19)

This table compares the two illnesses. Learn more about this subject by watching this video.

The flu vaccine helps protect you, your loved ones and your community from flu. More people vaccinated means more people are protected. The flu vaccine also has been shown to help prevent serious medical events associated with some chronic conditions, like heart and lung disease, and diabetes.

Children are more likely than other age groups to get sick from flu. Children younger than 5 years old are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from flu. You can reduce your child’s risk of getting sick by getting them a flu vaccine.

You can schedule an appointment to get a flu vaccine either at your primary care physician’s office or at one of our Immediate Care Centers. Appointments are required at all locations. We take every precaution to offer flu vaccines in a safe environment with minimal contact. You can also go to your local pharmacy to get the vaccine.

If you are not feeling well on the day you are scheduled to get the vaccine, you should reschedule your appointment.

Anyone who wants to reduce their chance of getting seasonal flu should get vaccinated. However, the vaccine is particularly important for certain people who are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for high-risk persons.

Vaccination is strongly recommended for:

  • Children ages 6 months to 18 years
  • People who are pregnant
  • People age 50 and older
  • People of any age with a chronic medical condition, such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes
  • People who live in a nursing home or other long-term care facility
  • People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
    • Healthcare workers
    • Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from flu
    • Household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children under the age of 6 months (these children are too young to be vaccinated)

Some people should not get the flu vaccine without first consulting a physician. They include:

  • People with allergies to flu vaccine, eggs or any ingredient in the vaccine
  • Children under the age of 6 months
  • People who have a history Guillain-Barré syndrome

The flu vaccine has been given in the United States for more than 50 years, and severe reactions are extremely rare. Before approving a flu vaccine for public use, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluates the vaccine for safety and effectiveness. The FDA also ensures that all vaccines comply with its strict Current Good Manufacturing Process regulations. The CDC and FDA continually monitor the safety of flu vaccines and have a platform to identify and report any adverse reactions.

The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. The vaccine does not contain a live virus. It can cause mild side effects such as redness, pain and swelling at the injection site.

The flu vaccine does not work instantly. It can take about two weeks after you receive the vaccine to develop immunity to flu, and you could become sick during that time through exposure to flu. You may also be sick with another type of respiratory illness such as the common cold. The flu vaccine only protects against flu.

Yes. The CDC has determined you can safely get your COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as a flu vaccine where available.

The effectiveness of the flu vaccine can vary from season to season. In a typical year, it reduces the risk of flu between 40% and 60% in the population. If you do get flu despite getting the vaccine, vaccination can reduce your symptoms. That means you are less likely to need to see your physician or be hospitalized due to flu.

The flu vaccine can help prevent serious complications from flu for those with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and diabetes. The flu vaccine also help protects people during and after pregnancy.

And, getting the flu vaccine helps protect your loved ones and the community.

Getting vaccinated against flu and COVID-19 are the most important ways to help protect yourself and your loved ones. In addition to vaccination, you should:

  • Wear a mask according to CDC recommendations.
  • Maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance from others outside of your home.
  • Wash your hands frequently.

COVID-19 vaccines are available at no cost through Northwestern Medicine and in your local community. Please visit the COVID-19 Public Vaccine Distribution section on the COVID-19 Resource Center for more information.

We offer COVID-19 testing at multiple locations in Chicago and surrounding communities. A Northwestern Medicine physician’s order is required for testing at Northwestern Medicine. The order must designate the location for your test.

A list of current testing locations and details can be found here. Please note that locations may change.

If you do not have an order for testing, contact your Northwestern Medicine physician or visit a Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care Center for an evaluation to determine if a test is needed.

Additional testing options may be available through your local pharmacy or public health agency.

Children can be tested at many Northwestern Medicine locations. A Northwestern Medicine physician’s order is required for testing. The current testing locations and details, including the ages tested, can be found here. Please note that locations may change.

You can visit a Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care Center, where a healthcare provider will examine you and order a test if needed. Walk-in evaluations are available at all sites. Visit nm.org/immediate to schedule a virtual visit or reserve a walk-in time slot.

A list of the current testing locations and details can be found here. Please note that locations may change.

COVID-19 test results will be sent via MyNM, powered by MyChart. If you do not already have a MyNM account, you will receive a code to set up an account. Learn more about MyNM at nm.org/mynm.

If you have additional questions about COVID-19, call the Northwestern Medicine COVID-19 Hotline at 312.47.COVID (312.472.6843; TTY: 711).

If you have questions about whether or not you should get the flu vaccine or COVID-19 vaccine, consult your healthcare provider.