Prepare against Flu, RSV & COVID-19 now.

Prepare against Flu, RSV & COVID-19 now.

Preparing for Flu Season in 2023: Vaccines and Boosters

Flu Season

It’s that time of the year when kids head back to school and we start thinking about viruses, both for ourselves and our little ones. As we prepare for the upcoming flu season in the United States, we can draw some insights from what happened in the Southern Hemisphere. Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles reports that an early flu season might be on the horizon.

As we gear up for flu season, it’s essential to remember the importance of the flu vaccine. According to Dr. Soniya Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at Cedars-Sinai, getting the flu shot in September or October is crucial. Even during a typical flu season, the flu can be deadly, resulting in significant hospitalizations. Last year alone, the United States witnessed 58,000 flu-related deaths and over half a million flu-related hospitalizations. It’s evident that the best tool we have to protect ourselves and others is the flu vaccine.

But it’s not just the flu we need to worry about. COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) could also make a comeback at the same time as the flu, leading to a potentially disastrous “tripledemic.” Last year, emergency departments across the country were overwhelmed, and children’s hospitals were strained due to the simultaneous surge in flu, COVID-19, and RSV cases. RSV, in particular, can be incredibly dangerous, even fatal, for infants and older adults.

To combat these viruses, new vaccines and shots have been developed. Cedars-Sinai highlights the availability of RSV shots for babies and adults over 60. These new vaccines can significantly contribute to safeguarding ourselves and our communities during the upcoming flu season. By doing so, we can ensure that hospital capacity remains available for those in dire need of care.

While RSV may appear as a mild cold to many, it remains the leading cause of infant hospitalization in the United States. Dr. Priya Soni, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cedars-Sinai, emphasizes that even completely healthy children can have a severe course with RSV. In such cases, hospitalization is often necessary for oxygen support, fluids, and other measures of care. Given the potential risks, the recent approval of an antibody shot called Beyfortus (nirsevimab-alip) brings hope. This shot can be given to newborns and infants during their first RSV season, with children up to 19 months old still at risk in their second RSV season also eligible for the shot.

Additionally, pregnant women between 32 and 36 weeks can protect their infants by receiving a new Pfizer RSV vaccine at birth. This vaccine has also been approved for adults aged 60 and older, alongside another vaccine from pharmaceutical company GSK. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifically recommends these vaccines for older adults at the highest risk of severe RSV, such as those with asthma, diabetes, or heart failure.

While these vaccines are generally considered safe, a very small number of cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a condition where the immune system attacks peripheral nerves, were reported after vaccination. The CDC emphasizes that more data is required to determine whether these cases are directly related to the vaccines. Nevertheless, it’s crucial for older patients with lung disease or those who are immunosuppressed to consider the RSV vaccine. Dr. Sonja Rosen, section chief of geriatric medicine at Cedars-Sinai, advises patients to have an informed discussion with their physician before making a decision.

In addition to the flu and RSV vaccines, it’s worth mentioning two new booster shots that enhance protection against the Omicron variant called XBB. Dr. Soniya Gandhi expresses gratitude for the progress made in 2023, including the availability of boosters, at-home tests, and antiviral medications like Paxlovid. As immunity from the initial vaccination wanes over time, getting a booster shot becomes increasingly important, especially for vulnerable populations.

It’s safe to receive the COVID and flu vaccines together, ensuring comprehensive protection against both viruses. However, for older adults opting for the RSV shot, it’s recommended to get that vaccine separately and to space it two weeks apart from the others, if possible.

As we embark on another flu season, it’s crucial to prioritize our health and the well-being of our loved ones. By staying informed about the latest vaccines and boosters available, we can play an active role in safeguarding ourselves and our communities. Remember to consult with healthcare professionals and make informed decisions about which vaccines are right for you. Let’s take proactive measures to combat these viruses and ensure a healthier future for everyone.

Source: Cedars-Sinai, news release, Sept. 12, 2023