Over the last few years, the nation has been through multiple rounds of COVID-19 vaccinations. This fall, the COVID-19 vaccine will be offered annually. The flu shot will also be recommended, as well as a newly approved vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a virus that is especially harmful to infants and older adults.
What can we expect from the vaccines, how important are they and can you get them at the same time? Keck Medicine of USC experts have the answers.
How COVID-19 vaccinations are changing this fall
The updated COVID-19 vaccine is designed as a single annual dose that will target the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, which is responsible for the majority of cases today. This formula should also offer protection against the new XBB substrains that have recently emerged. The vaccine will be offered by Pfizer, Moderna and a newcomer, Novavax.
We are still awaiting final approval and recommendations for the vaccine from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At that time, health officials will also make recommendations about who is eligible for the vaccine.
The U.S. Government COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Program, which provided free vaccinations, will end. However, insurance should pick up the cost for COVID-19 vaccines, and for those uninsured or underinsured, the CDC is launching the Bridge Access Program for COVID-19 vaccines. The CDC will partner with state and local programs to provide and distribute the free vaccines.
-- Edward Jones-Lopez, MD, MS, is an infectious disease expert with Keck Medicine of USC. He is available for interviews in English and Spanish.
Why COVID-19 vaccines are still needed
Research shows about 75% of Americans have retained at least some immunity from a prior infection of the virus. However, immunity fades over time and the individual risk of getting COVID-19, despite some immunity, is varied and inconsistent. The protection offered by vaccines also fades over time.
Despite advances in treating COVID-19, it still can be a difficult and deadly disease that can lead to hospitalization, long-term symptoms or death. The side effects of the vaccine have proven to be minimal, so it is recommended that everyone who is eligible gets vaccinated, especially as we are coming off a summer surge and there may be future outbreaks over the holidays.
If you have any concerns about the vaccine due to a health condition, consult your health care provider. Additionally, while most people can wait until the new COVID-19 vaccine is released rather than getting the still-available 2022 vaccine, if you feel your health requires a vaccination now, you should also talk to your health care provider.
-- Earl Strum, MD, is the medical director of Employee Health Services for Keck Medicine of USC and clinical professor of population and public health science with the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
Timing your vaccines safely and effectively
It is recommended that everyone six months or older be vaccinated against influenza every year. The best time to get the flu shot is September or October, so you will be inoculated in plenty of time before the high-flu season of the holidays.
It is safe to get the flu shot at the same time as your COVID-19 vaccine. For some people, one or both vaccines may result in mild flu-like symptoms that should pass within a few days. For those concerned about soreness at the site of the jab, consider getting one shot in one arm and one in the other arm to avoid overtaxing one limb. Also, if a local reaction does occur, you will know which vaccine was responsible. If not insured, you can find a free flu shot at a local health clinic, pharmacy or even grocery store.
RSV is a highly contagious virus that causes infections of the lungs and breathing passages, particularly among the young and old. The CDC recommends adults 60 years and older receive a single dose of the RSV vaccine in consultation with their health care provider. Additionally, the FDA just approved the RSV vaccine for use in pregnant individuals to protect infants from the virus.
Clinical trials have shown that there are minimal side effects of the vaccine, and any mild symptoms far offset the possible serious complications RSV can cause. Talk to your health care provider should you have any questions or concerns about this new vaccine, including payment/insurance options.
While co-administration of the RSV vaccine with other vaccines is in accordance with general best practice guidelines for immunization, recommendations have not yet been made whether or not this vaccine should be taken at the same time as the COVID-19 and flu vaccines.
-- Krist Azizian, PharmD, MHA, is the chief pharmacy officer for Keck Medicine of USC.