What you need to know about Flu and RSV shots this fall
We’re heading into fall which means crunchy leaves, crisp air, and unfortunately, respiratory viruses. The good news is we have great ways to help protect us from flu, RSV, and COVID:
Like in previous years, CDC recommends the flu vaccine for anyone ages 6 months and older. September and October are good times to get a flu vaccine to help protect you throughout the fall and winter. If you’re pregnant, getting the flu shot during pregnancy can help protect your baby in their first six months of life, before they’re able to get their own flu vaccine.
If you’ve never gotten a flu shot, now is the perfect time to start! You might think flu is “no big deal” but the reality is it can be serious and life threatening. CDC estimates that flu has resulted in 9 million – 41 million illnesses, 140,000 – 710,000 hospitalizations, and 12,000 – 52,000 deaths each year between 2010 and 2020.
You can get vaccinated at your doctor’s office and most pharmacies. Find your shot at vaccines.gov. Flu shots are free with most insurance. Not insured or on BadgerCare? We received our vaccine and can vaccinate you now, with an appointment!
While we’re all familiar with flu and COVID, RSV doesn’t usually get as much press. RSV is respiratory syncytial (sin-SISH-uhl) virus. It’s a common respiratory virus that usually causes cold-like symptoms, but it can be serious. Infants and adults 65+ are more likely to develop severe RSV and need hospitalization. CDC tells us that each year in the United States, an estimated 58,000-80,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized due to RSV infection. The fall 2022 season was especially severe.
This season we have new ways to help protect the babies and older adults most at risk:
Two vaccines were approved this year for adults 60 years and older. The vaccine is especially important for adults 60+ who have chronic heart or lung disease, weakened immune systems, certain underlying medical conditions, and those who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities. CDC says people who are eligible should talk to their doctor about whether the 1-dose RSV vaccination is right for them. Because the shot is approved but not yet on the adult vaccine schedule, insurance may not cover it. Check with your insurer for costs and coverage before getting the shot. Medicare Part D does cover the cost.
Babies & Toddlers
This summer, an antibody therapy was approved for infants younger than 8 months old. As epidemiologist Dr. Katelin Jetelina put it, “This is not a vaccine (i.e., doesn’t teach the body to make antibodies) but rather a medication (it provides antibodies).” Infants should get the shot before their first RSV season. Kids 8-19 months old who are at increased risk for severe disease (for example, are severely immunocompromised) can also get the shot. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about timing and availability.
Pregnant Person (Not yet available but on the horizon)
One of the vaccines approved for use among people 60+ (Abrysvo) was also approved in August for people who are pregnant. It is given between weeks 32 and 36 of pregnancy. The vaccine helps protect babies through their first 6 months of life.
Importantly, this vaccine has passed the FDA approval step, but still needs to be voted on by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). They likely will not be discussing this vaccine until their October 25 meeting, so this vaccine is not yet available.
I’m not eligible for an RSV shot or antibody treatment. What can I do?
Even if you’re not one of the groups most at risk, getting RSV isn’t a fun time. You can help protect yourself and others from RSV (and flu, COVID, and other respiratory viruses) by following good old-fashioned hygiene:
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your shirt sleeve, not your hands
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Avoid close contact with others, such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils
- Clean frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs and mobile devices
You'll also soon be able to monitor trends in RSV and other respiratory viruses on our respiratory virus dashboard, launching this fall! Subscribe to our blog so you’re in the know when it launches.
We’re still waiting for more information on COVID vaccination for this fall. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) meets on September 12, and we’ll have more information about recommendations after that meeting.
At Public Health Madison & Dane County, we likely won’t have vaccine until the end of September, though area pharmacies and doctor’s offices might have vaccine sooner.
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