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Another COVID winter is creeping closer, and with it, so does cold and flu season. But unlike last year — when a majority of social-distancing protocols and closures were still in place — people are vaxxed, socializing, and gathering indoors.
That means, in addition to potentially spreading COVID, good ol' cold and flu germs can spread like wildfire, too. While it feels unfair, you can totally still get sick with a run-of-the-mill cold during this ongoing global pandemic.
And if you've been feeling sniffly or under the weather — and are due for your COVID booster shot, which was recently approved for all U.S. adults — you might be wondering whether it's a good idea to get a booster if you have a cold or if you should wait until you're feeling better. So, can you get your COVID booster with a cold, or should you hold off? Here's the official recommendation.
COVID Booster Shot 101
First off, make sure you're eligible for a COVID vaccine booster. All U.S. adults age 18+ are eligible to receive a booster, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as long as....
It's been at least 6 months since you finished your initial mRNA vaccine series (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna).
It's been at least 2 months since you got your Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine.
FYI, you're allowed to mix and match vaccines, according to the CDC. So, even if you got Moderna for your first and second dose, if your pharmacy or doctor only has doses of the Pfizer booster shot, that's totally fine. In fact, there's some evidence showing that mixing and matching different vaccines may offer increased protection against COVID-19 infection, but more comprehensive research is still underway, so you shouldn't necessarily seek out a different brand for your booster.
If You're Sick and Want to Get a COVID Booster...
Before anything else, you should rule out COVID-19 as the reason you're under the weather because "if you have COVID-19, you should not be getting a booster while you're sick [with the coronavirus]," says Vivek Cherian, M.D., internal medicine physician at Amita Health. That's because you should be isolating if you're infected with COVID-19; the CDC specifically recommends quarantining yourself for 10 days after you first start to show symptoms. If you're sick — even with "normal" mild cold symptoms, such as a runny nose and sore throat — there's still a possibility that it could be COVID-19. In fact, the CDC's official list of potential COVID symptoms includes many typical cold symptoms (including headache, fatigue, sore throat, and congestion or runny nose), and breakthrough infections (when a fully vaccinated person is infected with COVID) tend to present with mild symptoms. Your best bet: Get tested to make sure it's not the coronavirus.
From there, "if you've ruled out COVID-19, you need to ask yourself: how sick are you?" says Dr. Cherian.
If it's not COVID and your symptoms are mild (such as congestion, runny nose, cough, or sore throat), it's ok to go ahead and get your COVID booster shot. "[If you] overall feel like yourself, I'd recommend getting your booster," says Dr. Cherian. However, "if you're feeling quite ill (i.e. having fevers, body aches, diarrhea, etc.) it's best to hold off on getting a booster," he says. (FTR, the CDC's recommendations mimic Dr. Cherian's advice.)
There's no evidence that acute illness reduces vaccine efficacy or increases adverse reactions, according to the CDC, but still, "you want your immune system to be able to respond to your vaccine/booster in the most effective way possible, and you don't want to be too compromised while dealing with a bad cold," says Dr. Cherian. Purvi Parikh, M.D., immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network and a co-investigator with the COVID vaccine trials, agrees. "Theoretically you may not mount as good of an immune response if your immune system is fighting a cold as well as then processing the vaccine," she says.
Not to mention, you could have worse side effects from the booster, says Dr. Parikh. The side effects of the COVID booster are similar to the side effects of the original vaccine doses, and aren't all that different from cold symptoms; the most common side effects are pain, redness, and swelling in the arm that got the shot, as well as tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea, according to the CDC. Translation: If you get your COVID booster while you're already sick, you might feel doubly crappy.
And if you get jabbed, it might take you even longer to get over your cold. "It will prolong your underlying illness as your body will be under stress from fighting the infection and stress from the vaccine," explains Dr. Parikh.
"If you have a cold with mild symptoms, go ahead and get your booster; however, if you have a more severe cold, I'd recommend putting it off until after you recover," says Dr. Cherian. But when in doubt, wait it out; Dr. Parikh recommends erring on the side of caution and waiting until you're feeling normal to get your booster.
And, while you're at it, remember to get your flu shot (it's never too late!). With COVID — and the new, highly contagious Omicron variant — still circulating, it's important to prevent any illness. You can even get your flu shot at the same time as your COVID booster shot if you want. Talk about a 2-for-1 deal.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it's possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.