Fall is here – and soon after, respiratory virus season will begin. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the past few respiratory virus seasons have been difficult to predict. When everyone was masking and mostly staying home, very low numbers of other respiratory viruses including influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) were seen. That has now changed as we’ve moved beyond the pandemic.
Here are a few things to keep in mind this season about COVID-19, flu, and RSV, and their respective vaccines.
What to know about COVID-19:
While COVID-19 numbers are rising both locally and around the country, it is not nearly at the level we experienced in past years. The current strains circulating are not causing more severe disease – none of our current patients are in the ICU.
As COVID-19 continues to circulate this fall, the prevention measures you use are the same as they’ve been before: washing hands, testing when symptomatic, staying home when sick, and masking in crowded areas if you are at high risk for severe disease.
Should I get the updated COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes! As of September, there are new COVID-19 vaccines from both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone ages 6 months and older receive an updated COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves this fall and winter. Vaccination is the best way to prevent COVID-19-related hospitalization and death.
If you have not received the primary series of the COVID-19 vaccine, you are still eligible to receive the updated vaccine which targets strains of the virus that are circulating now. The updated vaccine should be given at least two months after the most recent dose of COVID-19 vaccine received. Everyone 65 years old and above and those that are immunocompromised may get two doses of the updated vaccine; the second dose should be four months after the first. Since COVID-19 cases are high, now would be a good time to receive this vaccination.
The updated COVID-19 vaccine is offered for Stamford Health Medical Group patients through their primary care offices and at the Stamford Health Walk-In Center at 292 Long Ridge Road. It is also be available at pharmacies like Walgreens or CVS, and the Stamford Health Department will be offering the booster at its Henry Street Clinic.
The predominant circulating strains of the flu virus can change each year. Getting a flu shot annually is important because the vaccine that you received last year may not protect you against this year’s strains. Plus, the protection you get from the vaccine can wane over time.
New flu vaccines are made yearly, using the previous season’s most common circulating virus strains. We won’t know how the flu shot stacks up until the end of the flu season, once all the data is in. Flu can cause serious complications and turn fatal, especially in young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with certain medical conditions. There is a high-dose flu vaccine available for people ages 65 and older.
Should I get the flu vaccine?
Yes! The CDC urges everyone ages 6 months and older to get a flu shot every year. Most children only need one dose, but some between 6 months and 8 years may initially need two. Ask your pediatrician what is best for your child.
We usually recommend getting the flu shot sometime in October, so you’ll be more fully protected through the entire respiratory virus season. But the best time to get vaccinated is the time that is most convenient to you. The flu vaccine is available through Stamford Health Medical Group primary care offices, Stamford Health Medical Group pediatric practices, pharmacies, and the Stamford Health Department.
What to know about RSV:
RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus. It's a common cold virus that causes sneezing, coughing, congestion, and runny nose, but it can be particularly dangerous for adults older than 65 and young children, especially those under 2 years old.
This year, there are new tools to help combat serious RSV illness for two at-risk populations.
RSV vaccine for people 60+: CDC recommends that adults ages 60 and older receive a single dose of RSV vaccine after discussing with their doctor. Individuals with conditions like lung disease, heart disease, or those who are severely immunocompromised may benefit most from RSV vaccination. Again, please speak with your primary care provider or pulmonologist before considering vaccination.
This vaccine will not be available at Stamford Health Medical Group practices, but will be offered at local pharmacies.
RSV monoclonal antibody for infants: In August, the CDC approved nirsevimab, a monoclonal antibody for infants that has been shown to reduce the risk of both hospitalizations and health care visits for RSV in infants by 80%. It should be available in early October.
CDC recommends one dose of nirsevimab for all infants younger than 8 months, born during – or entering – their first RSV season (typically fall through spring). For some children between the ages of 8 and 19 months, a dose may be recommended in their second season. Infants born shortly before or during the RSV season should receive niresevimab within their first week of life. Stamford Health plans to offer nirsevimab and will share more details with patients soon.
If you have further questions about any of the vaccines detailed above, do not hesitate to reach out to your physician to learn more. Vaccines are one of the most valuable tools we have to prevent severe illness this time of year.
About the Author
Asha Shah, MD, MS, is the director of infectious diseases at Stamford Health.
Featured Expert/ Author