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Should you get a COVID booster vaccine while sick? Here's what experts say

With the announcement of booster doses coming amid cold and flu season, can you get a booster shot if you are currently sick?

WASHINGTON — Cold and flu season is colliding with a global pandemic, which means there are a lot more coughs and sniffles going around at the same time booster shots are being scheduled.

So what happens if you've got an appointment for the shot, but you're under the weather? 

THE QUESTION:

Should you get a booster dose while sick?

THE SOURCES:

  • Dr. Kawsar Talaat, infectious disease physician at Johns Hopkins Medicine and an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Dr. Donald Alcendor, associate professor at Meharry Medical College and associate adjunct professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center
  • Dr. Greg Schrank- infectious disease physician at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a hospital epidemiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center 

THE ANSWER:

Our Verify researchers spoke with Dr. Kawsar Talaat at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Donald Alcendor at Meharry Medical College and Dr. Greg Schrank at the University of Maryland Medical Center, in late November.

They all agreed once you rule out COVID, it all depends on how bad you’re feeling.

But now that cases are spiking with the omicron variant, we reached out to see if their opinions have changed.

WHAT WE FOUND:

“If you are sick with COVID, and in the isolation period, you should not be getting a booster," Dr. Talaat said. "If you have another illness, if you have a fever...if you feel pretty bad. If you have diarrhea or vomiting, I wouldn't go out and get a vaccine at that time.”

Dr. Alcendor said you don't want your immune system to be compromised before getting the booster.

“You want to have a good response to that vaccine, and a good response means an immune system that is firing on all cylinders," he said. "And the idea that you're sick already, your immune system may be under duress at that point.”

Another reason to wait is so that you know how your body is responding to the booster.

"If you are feeling unwell... you may develop some symptoms that are hard to distinguish from some side effects from the vaccines and the confusion that could occur," Dr. Schrank said.

RELATED: Should a child get a COVID-19 vaccine if they are currently sick?

"How would the doctor know exactly to attribute those symptoms to the booster or a pre-existing condition that you had already?” Dr. Alcendor said.

So if you’re dealing with a more severe illness, our experts say wait it out and reschedule. But, if it's something milder, our experts say you can go ahead. 

"If you just have the sniffles and you know it's not COVID, and you are feeling pretty good otherwise, you know, you can go ahead and get a booster," Dr. Talaat said in November.

While Dr. Talaat previously believed there was no urgency to get a booster shot while under the weather, she now says it's more important to get a booster as soon as you can.

"If someone is eligible, I wouldn’t delay unless they are very sick or have a fever," she said. "But also it is very important to know that the person doesn't have COVID. So if symptomatic, get tested for COVID first, (PCR is best), and then [they] can get vaccine if negative."

Dr. Schrank, who specializes in serious infections among critically ill, hospitalized patients, agreed.

"Sometimes some of those symptoms after a cold—some post-nasal drip with a little bit of a cough, congestion—that can last and linger for a couple of weeks, and so if you're scheduled for your booster and you're feeling well, you're without a fever, you've been ruled out for COVID-19, it's a good opportunity still to get boosted," Dr. Schrank said. "And you can rest assured that having that recent infection will not limit your body's immune response."

So we can verify, if you have something more severe, you should hold off, but if it’s something very mild like a runny nose or slight headache, our experts say you should be fine to go ahead and get the shot.

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