Whether you’re scheduling your first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or lining up for your booster, taking the most effective step to protect yourself against the novel coronavirus can be exciting. But if you’ve got a cold—or what feels like one, anyway—should you get the COVID-19 vaccine? Or stay at home and reschedule?
So far, nearly three-quarters of all Americans have received at least one dose of the three available COVID-19 vaccines, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); over 71 million have gotten a booster. But as cold and flu season crests, it’s not always possible to secure an appointment when you’re feeling your best.
To make matters more confusing, you might not be able to tell if you’re dealing with a cold, the flu, or COVID-19, especially as all three surge and access to testing remains limited. So, can you get the COVID-19 vaccine or booster if you’re sick? Here’s what infectious disease doctors say.
Can you get the COVID-19 vaccine if you have a cold?
“People with mild illnesses can be vaccinated,” the CDC explains in its COVID-19 vaccination checklist. (This includes the common cold or an upper respiratory infection, not a “mild” case of COVID-19.) If you’ve got the sniffles, a sore throat, or a headache, you can go ahead with your appointment if you feel up to it—just make sure you’re wearing a mask and taking precautions to protect the people around you.
Although there is no evidence that acute illnesses, like the flu, reduce COVID-19 vaccine efficacy or increase adverse reactions, people who feel moderately or severely sick should delay vaccination out of an abundance of caution, the CDC warns. Once you’re feeling better, you can get the vaccine.
If you’re having upper respiratory symptoms, there’s a chance that your “cold” could actually be COVID-19, says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, so if your symptoms are more moderate or severe, it’s not a bad idea to get tested or wait to get vaccinated until you feel better.
William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, agrees. “In the current environment where there’s so much COVID-19 still being spread, wait until your illness has resolved, just to be safe,” he advises.
In addition to preventing the spread of COVID-19, you’ll also be doing yourself a favor: “If you have a stuffy nose and are feeling crummy, the vaccine could make you feel even crummier,” Dr. Schaffner explains. Common side effects of the vaccines include fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle aches—not exactly a welcome addition to your existing cold symptoms.
Can you get the COVID-19 vaccine if you have COVID-19?
If you know you have COVID-19 and are experiencing symptoms, you should not get vaccinated while you’re sick, the CDC warns. Symptomatic patients should wait until their symptoms have subsided and they are cleared to leave isolation, while asymptomatic people should ensure they are allowed to leave isolation before rolling up their sleeves.
This recommendation also applies if you happen to get COVID-19 before your second shot in your primary series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. (This is still possible since you haven’t been fully immunized without the full series.) You’ll want to wait until you’ve recovered to get your next shot.
And if there’s a chance that you have COVID-19, it’s best to get tested before heading to your vaccine appointment. “We don’t want you coming in and infecting other people,” says John Sellick, D.O., an infectious disease expert and professor of medicine at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Can you get the booster if you’re sick?
Similar rules apply to the COVID-19 boosters: If you’re experiencing mild symptoms of another illness, you can go ahead with your shot, per the CDC. But those battling more intense infections or SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) should reschedule their appointments.
There are enough available doses for everyone, but vaccine and booster appointments can still be tricky to book when everyone is booking appointments at once. When you’re feeling under the weather and think you should reschedule your appointment, you should seek out COVID-19 testing, explains Richard Watkins, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University.
In general, though, the experts say it’s really best to put off your vaccine appointment if you have cold-like symptoms—as long as you don’t forget to reschedule your appointment. “We often say that a dose deferred is a dose never received,” Dr. Schaffner says. “Don’t let that happen to you.”
This article is accurate as of press time. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves and the scientific community’s understanding of the novel coronavirus develops, some of the information may have changed since it was last updated. While we aim to keep all of our stories up to date, please visit online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department to stay informed on the latest news. Always talk to your doctor for professional medical advice.