Fall is here and so too are the annual respiratory viruses that come with it, led by influenza (flu) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Plus, COVID-19 continues to be a major cause of serious respiratory illnesses. The good news is that this is the first year where vaccines are available for all three viruses. Not only that, but each of these vaccines are covered as a $0 preventive care service under most insurance plans, including Independent Health.
Since getting vaccinated is safer than getting sick, here’s what you need to know about all three viruses and their vaccine:
Flu viruses can infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. Luckily, the flu vaccine can reduce the intensity and duration of flu, and can decrease flu-related illnesses, doctor visits, hospitalizations and sick days from work and school.
Based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), September and October are the best times for most people over the age of six months to get a flu shot. That’s because flu activity often begins to increase in October.
A new CDC study found that people who had received a flu vaccine were half as likely to be hospitalized with flu compared to people who had not been vaccinated. However, the benefits of flu vaccination will still vary, depending on characteristics of the person being vaccinated (for example, their health and age), what flu viruses are circulating that season and, potentially, which type of flu vaccine was used.
RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious. Infants and older adults are more likely to develop severe RSV and need hospitalization.
A new RSV vaccine is now available for individuals aged 60 and older, which is the group at highest risk for developing severe infection. While a similar vaccine for children is not yet available, there is an RSV vaccine for pregnant women that provides protection to the baby in addition to the mother. In addition, there’s a recently approved medication that can be used to protect very young children from RSV infection.
As with other vaccines, you should talk with your doctor to see if the RSV vaccine is right for you.
The public health emergency may be over, but COVID-19 is not gone. Although we’re seeing much fewer COVID-19-associated hospitalizations than we saw during the initial pandemic, we do know that COVID-19 can continue to cause severe illness, particularly in vulnerable individuals based on age and medical comorbidities.
An updated COVID-19 booster shot was recently approved by both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC, opening up the availability of better protection against infection ahead of the winter season. The latest vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech target more recent variants of the COVID virus, specifically the Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariant. The CDC says this subvariant’s unique genetic makeup makes it more contagious as compared to previous variants in people who already have COVID-19 immunity having either previously been infected or vaccinated.
The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older who has not received a COVID-19 vaccine in the past two months get the updated shot to protect against the potentially serious outcomes of COVID-19. If you recently tested positive for COVID-19, the updated vaccine should be deferred until your symptoms of the acute illness have subsided and you no longer have to isolate. People who recently had COVID-19 may want to hold off on getting vaccinated for 3 months after their illness.
For the latest information on COVID-19, please visit the CDC website.
When it comes to getting any vaccine, most people won’t experience serious side effects. The most common side effects—like soreness where the shot was given—are usually mild and go away quickly on their own. Keep in mind that most common side effects are a sign that your body is starting to build immunity (protection) against a disease. To learn more about how vaccines provide immunity, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website.
As always, talk with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about getting vaccinated.
Expert advice from Independent Health
Dr. Jennifer Walsh, Independent Health’s Associate Medical Director for Utilization Management, appeared on the September 23rd episode of Big WECK Radio’s Senior Matters Show to discuss how you can protect yourself from flu, RSV and COVID-19.