If you’re headed off to college or graduate school for the 2021–22 school year, your long to-do list includes filling out the required medical forms and making sure all of your immunizations are up to date and documented. It was a lot to juggle even before colleges and universities — MIT included — started requiring new and returning students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as well.
Individuals trying to schedule COVID-19 vaccinations along with other immunizations have faced daunting challenges. COVID-19 vaccination often involves two separate shots separated by a three- or four-week interval. But these vaccines had the additional requirement that each shot had to be administered alone, not in combination with another vaccine. They also could not be given within 14 days of any other vaccine. It’s a scheduling restriction that’s frustrated everyone from incoming grad students playing catch-up on lapsed childhood immunizations to older adults getting their first shingles shots.
The CDC has now lifted that prohibition. You can now get your COVID-19 vaccine on the same day as other vaccines or at any time before or after getting other immunizations.
The previous requirement was put in place “out of an abundance of caution,” the CDC explains. It was not because scientists had specific concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines’ safety or efficacy if administered at the same time, or close to the same time, as other vaccines. But now that we have an abundance of safety data, the agency says, it makes sense to drop those very specific timing requirements. “Although data are not available for COVID-19 vaccines administered simultaneously with other vaccines,” they write, “extensive experience with non-COVID-19 vaccines has demonstrated that immunogenicity and adverse event profiles are generally similar when vaccines are administered simultaneously as when they are administered alone.” In other words, COVID-19 vaccines should work just as well and be just as safe when administered at the same time as other vaccines.
But while this new guidance removes one potential hurdle to getting your COVID-19 vaccine, it’s still worth thinking about which vaccines you might combine and discussing the timing with your healthcare provider. Live vaccines or adjuvanted vaccines often come with side effects, the CDC notes, and those side effects might be exacerbated when combined with a COVID-19 vaccine. So, if you have some scheduling flexibility, you might still want to opt for some time between a COVID-19 dose and certain other immunizations.
“No matter how you schedule it, the important thing is that you schedule it,” says Assistant Medical Director and Chief of Student Health Shawn Ferullo, M.D. “Whether you get the COVID-19 vaccine by itself or at the same time as another shot, you can feel confident that you’ll be safe.”