’Tis the season for colds, flu and other viruses. Including, of course, the coronavirus, which is why federal health officials are urging all eligible Americans to get boosted ASAP.
But what if your booster shot appointment rolls around and you’re sneezing and sniffling? Should you still go in for your shot, or should you reschedule? Here’s what you need to know.
First and foremost, get a COVID test
If you have any potential COVID-19 symptoms — no matter how mild — get tested. These include “classic” symptoms, like cough, fever and loss of taste and smell. But just a runny nose, headache or an upset stomach could be a sign that you’re infected (yes, even if you’re fully vaccinated).
Many experts are predicting an increase in breakthrough cases because of the new omicron variant, which appears to be more transmissible and may be better at evading our current vaccines, so err on the side of caution and test. PCR testing remains the gold standard of COVID-19 testing, but rapid antigen tests are fast and pretty widely available at this point, and taking more than one might help boost accuracy.
If you do test positive for COVID-19, you should not get boosted until you’ve met the criteria to stop isolation. That is really more about others than about any concerns over what it might mean for you.
“We don’t have any evidence that getting the vaccine while you’re incubating SARS-CoV-2 would be harmful, but we also don’t have hundreds of cases to say that it’s fine,” said Margaret Fisher, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and adviser to New Jersey’s health commissioner. “If someone has symptoms that might be COVID, I would test before they go to get vaccinated to protect the vaccination staff and to protect the people standing in line to also get their boosters. If you have COVID-19, we don’t want you out walking around.”
If your cold symptoms are mild, you should be able to get your shot
We simply don’t have much research analyzing outcomes among people who have a cold or another mild illness and get their initial COVID-19 vaccine doses or a booster. There is, however, clear precedent from other types of vaccines — particularly childhood vaccines — saying it’s safe to get a shot if you’re somewhat under the weather with an illness like a cold, an ear infection, a low-grade fever or mild diarrhea.
And experts like Fisher say it’s OK to extrapolate from what we know about other vaccines and apply it to COVID-19 boosters.
“We very strongly recommend that a mild illness not keep you from getting whatever vaccines you’re scheduled to get, whether that’s the flu shot or COVID-19 booster — or whatever,” she said.
But if you’re really ill, hold off
If you’ve got a high fever or more moderate symptoms, it’s probably best to reschedule. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that there isn’t actually any data to suggest that being really sick when you get vaccinated puts you at greater risk of serious complications or hampers your immune response. But it does encourage delaying immunization until you’re feeling better.
Again, part of that has to do with other people. You shouldn’t be standing in a vaccine line or out in public if you’re really ill and potentially contagious, even if you’re not sick with COVID-19. Rest up, see your doctor if necessary, and make an appointment for when you’re feeling better.
If you’ve got any questions, check with your doctor
If you have any questions about the timing of your booster — or about anything else vaccine-related — definitely check in with your family doctor. They’re a reliable resource for vaccine information in general, but they can also take into account your specific symptoms, health history, any upcoming plans, and so on.
Keep in mind that the ultimate goal right now is to get as many people as possible vaccinated — and boosted — quickly and safely, particularly as omicron picks up steam.
“We’re watching these numbers go up and up, and we know the way we’re going to stop this is vaccinating the totally unvaccinated and boosting the people who have been vaccinated and are time-wise ready for a boost,” Fisher said.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.