Do Simultaneous Flu & COVID Shots Increase Your Stroke Risk? Here’s the Verdict, Says Research

Updated: Nov. 03, 2023

A specific audience needs this information the most—and here's why the vast majority of Americans shouldn't be dissuaded.

Getting the flu and COVID shots on the same day is a great way to kill two birds with one stone—protecting yourself and the people you come into contact with from these infections, all while maybe taking the following day to put your feet up and rest off any vaccine side effects.

If you heard about the recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report that raised concerns about a potential increased risk of stroke when COVID-19 and flu vaccines are both administered within a two-month period, a newer discovery stresses that it’s important to clarify what the findings actually indicate.

Earlier in 2023, through a Medicare monitoring system that was designed to spot vaccine-related issues, the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were alerted to a potential uptick in strokes among adults aged 65 and older who received both COVID and flu vaccines. However, this observed risk couldn’t be consistently replicated in other monitoring systems, and several additional studies didn’t show a similar risk.

A more detailed examination of the data revealed that the risk of stroke was only elevated when older adults received a specific COVID vaccine along with the high-dose or adjuvanted influenza vaccine, which are typically given exclusively to people over 65 or with compromised immune systems to enhance vaccine protection.

It’s worth noting that the increased risk was considerably low, affecting about three individuals out of every 100,000 vaccinated. Also, this elevated risk was primarily seen in those aged 85 and older. The study pointed to the high-dose flu vaccine as the likely contributor to this connection, although the increase in stroke risk associated with it was minimal.

So, should older adults skip their COVID and flu vaccines due to this study? The answer is a resounding no. Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Steven Nissen, MD, told CNN the associated risk of stroke in seniors “is trivial in comparison to the risk for people over 85 of dying from COVID.”

The FDA emphasizes that it remains crucial for older adults to receive both the flu shot and COVID boosters, despite the findings of this study. In a statement, the FDA told ABC News that it was “confident in the safety, effectiveness and quality of the COVID-19 vaccines that the agency has authorized and approved … The review conducted in this preprint paper is part of our ongoing safety surveillance efforts, which utilize a variety of data sources.” The CDC also told the network that current vaccination guidelines had not changed in light of the study.

Vaccination is also important because both COVID and the flu can independently increase the risk of stroke and other serious health issues. Research on COVID has consistently highlighted the risk it poses to the heart and cardiovascular system. As Dr. Michelle Olive, of of NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, stated in a National Institutes of Health (NIH) report: “Since the early days of the pandemic, we have known that people who had COVID-19 have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease or stroke up to one year after infection.”

The American Heart Association (AHA) also points out that inflammation, whether from the flu or COVID, can heighten the risk of stroke, even among younger people, which is why it recommends both vaccines.

Everyone should know the American Heart Association’s signs of a stroke

Recognizing the signs of a stroke is crucial for saving lives. The AHA recommends using the acronym F.A.S.T to identify stroke symptoms and promptly call for emergency assistance:

F: For facial drooping or an unbalanced appearance, which can be a sign of stroke.

A: For arm weakness, particularly on one side. A person may be asked to raise both arms, and if there’s an issue, stroke may be suspected.

S: For speech difficulties, as someone having a stroke might speak words that are disconnected or incoherent.

T: Stands for time, emphasizing the urgency of seeking help for a suspected stroke. As some medical professionals who specialize in stroke treatment say, “Minutes matter.” Every minute that passes in the face of possible stroke represents the danger of greater permanent damage to the brain. It’s inarguably better to have a false alarm than to delay potentially life-saving action.

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