Frequently Asked Questions

Flu Season/COVID-19 FAQs

During the fall and winter months, flu and COVID-19 will likely be active in our communities at the same time. Additionally, we expect more cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV can cause serious illness in babies and older adults. You should do what you can to protect yourself and your family from respiratory viruses.

You can get vaccines to protect against the flu and COVID-19. Some people should also get a vaccine for RSV. 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.

For more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on these viruses, visit:

  • COVID-19
  • Influenza (Flu)
  • RSV
  • It is possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. 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 physician or advanced practice provider will decide if you need to be tested and treated for the flu or COVID-19.

    Although caused by different viruses, COVID-19 and the flu can have similar symptoms, at least at first. Either virus might cause:

    • 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)

    Learn more about COVID-19 vs. the flu from the CDC. You can also watch this video. Please be sure to get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19.

    The flu vaccine helps protect you, your loved ones and your community from the 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 the flu. Children younger than 5 years old are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu. You can reduce your child’s risk of getting sick by getting them a flu vaccine once they are age 6 months or older.

    Flu vaccines are available at Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care Centers Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 am to 2 pm to patients age 3 years and older. Flu vaccines are also available at your primary care physician’s office. Appointments are required at all primary care physician locations.

    Appointments are required at all primary care physician locations. You can also go to your local pharmacy to get the vaccine.

    The CDC recommends vaccination for everyone ages 6 months and older.

    Anyone who wants to reduce their chance of getting seasonal flu should get vaccinated. And the vaccine is most important for people who are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or who live with or care for someone who is at high risk.

    Vaccination is strongly recommended for:

    • Children ages 6 months and older
    • 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)

    It’s important to note that people with an egg allergy can get a flu vaccine. If you have an egg allergy, you might recall that you were told to avoid flu vaccine in the past. However, this is no longer the case with today’s vaccines.

    Some people should not get the flu vaccine without first talking to their physician. They include:

    • People with severe, life-threatening allergies to any ingredient in a flu vaccine (note that flu vaccine is now safe for people with an egg allergy).
    • People who have had a severe allergic reaction to a flu vaccine in the past.
      • They also might not be able to get other types of flu vaccines.
      • If you have had a severe allergic reaction to a flu vaccine in the past, talk with your physician to see if vaccination is right for you.
    • Children under the age of 6 months
    • People who have a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome

    The flu vaccine has been given in the United States for more than 50 years. Severe reactions are extremely rare.

    Before approving a flu vaccine, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluates the vaccine for safety and effectiveness. The FDA also ensures that all vaccines meet its strict Current Good Manufacturing Process regulations.

    The CDC and FDA continually monitor the safety of flu vaccines. They 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.

    The flu vaccine does not work instantly. It can take about 2 weeks after you get the vaccine for your body to build up antibodies to the flu. You could get exposed and become sick during that time.

    Also, the flu vaccine does not always keep you from getting the flu. But it should help make your illness milder.

    And, you may still get sick with another type of respiratory illness, such as COVID-19 or the common cold. The flu vaccine only protects against the flu.

    The vaccine can cause mild side effects such as redness, pain and swelling at the injection site.

    Yes. You can even get a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine at the same time where available.

    How well the flu vaccine protects you can vary from season to season. In a typical year, it reduces the risk of getting the flu between 40% and 60% in the population. This means if 10 people get the flu vaccine and are exposed to the flu, between 4 and 6 of them will not get the flu.

    • If you get the vaccine but still get the flu, the vaccine can reduce your symptoms. That means you are less likely to need to see your physician or be hospitalized due to the flu.
    • The flu vaccine can help prevent serious complications from the flu for those with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and diabetes.
    • The flu vaccine helps protect people during and after pregnancy.
    • Getting the flu vaccine helps protect your loved ones and the community.

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

    You can get a COVID-19 vaccine through Northwestern Medicine or in your local community. Find a convenient location by visiting the vaccination page on our COVID-19 Resource Center.

    We offer COVID-19 testing at multiple locations in Chicago and surrounding communities. You will need a Northwestern Medicine physician’s order for testing at Northwestern Medicine. The order must include 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 see if you need a test.

    You may have other testing options through your local pharmacy or public health agency.

    Many Northwestern Medicine locations offer testing for children. You will need a Northwestern Medicine physician’s order for testing. The current testing locations and details, including the ages tested, can be found here. Please note that locations may change.

    Visit a Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care Center, and a physician or advanced practice provider will examine you and order a test if needed. You do not need an appointment, but you can reserve a time in advance or set up a virtual visit. Visit to schedule a virtual visit or reserve a walk-in time slot.

    You can find a list of the current testing locations and details here. Please note that locations may change.

    We will share COVID-19 test results through the MyNM® app or your MyNM account accessible through any internet browser. If you do not have a MyNM account, you can get a code to set up an account. Learn more about MyNM at

    If you have questions about whether you should get the flu vaccine or COVID-19 vaccine, talk to your physician or advanced practice provider.