Three Vaccines for Fall: What You Need to Know

Most Americans have had one or more doses of the flu and COVID-19 vaccines. This year saw the introduction of the first new vaccine to protect older people from respiratory syncytial virus, a little-known threat that could rival the flu in hospitalizations and deaths.

Federal health officials hope that widespread use of these three vaccines could prevent a “triple demic” of respiratory illnesses like the one that broke out last winter. All vaccines should be free for those with insurance.

“This is a shame for the wealthy,” said Ofer Levy, Ph.D., director of the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children’s Hospital and an adviser to the Food and Drug Administration.

Here’s what he and other experts say about who should get which vaccine and when.

Coronaviruses, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus are all likely to return this fall, but exactly when and how much damage is unknown. Part of the reason is that the restrictions put in place during the pandemic have changed the seasonal pattern of the virus.

This winter, flu peaked in December instead of February. The death toll from the virus may have reached 58,000, higher than usual. COVID-19 maintained steady numbers of cases and deaths for most of the season, peaking in January.

Compared to the pre-pandemic pattern, RSV peaked several weeks earlier and lasted longer than usual last year.

RSV is increasingly recognized as a major respiratory threat, especially for the elderly, immunocompromised people and young children. “RSV causes a flu-like illness in the elderly,” said Dr. Helen Chu, a physician and immunologist at the University of Washington. “It can cause very severe symptoms.”

Scientists expect the respiratory virus to eventually return to pre-pandemic patterns, but “the next two years will be unpredictable,” Dr. Chu said.

Experts said everyone should at least get vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19 this fall.

The annual flu vaccine is recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months, but it is most important for adults over the age of 65, children under the age of 5, and people with weakened immune systems.

The latest shots of Covid-19 will be available this fall from Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax, all designed to target the now-controversial variant of Omicron, XBB.1.5. . about 27 percent of the case. Full recommendations will not be available until the FDA has approved the shot and the CDC has reviewed the new data.

Federal health officials haven’t spoken about a booster series followed by a primary dose. (Authorities don’t even call this shot a “booster” anymore). Trying to lure Americans into the idea of ​​an annual vaccination Use the latest version of the vaccine.

“Like a seatbelt in your car, it’s a good idea to stick with it,” Dr. Camille Cotten, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and an adviser to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said of the coronavirus vaccine.

RSV often causes respiratory disease in the elderly, especially those over the age of 75 who have other conditions such as cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease, and diabetes.

No new RSV vaccines are licensed for Americans under the age of 60. The CDC recommends that people over the age of 60 consult with their doctor before applying for vaccination.

It’s true that the risk posed by any of the three viruses increases with age, but remember, “65 is not a magic cutoff point,” Dr. Chu said.

“Even if you don’t have pre-existing conditions, all three of these viruses can cause severe symptoms,” she says.

No one knows when these viruses will reappear. Therefore, it is necessary to get vaccinated early enough in the fall to build immunity to the pathogen. Most people are unwilling or unable to make multiple trips to the clinic or pharmacy to space their injections.

That probably means September or October. Most Americans may want to consider getting flu and COVID-19 shots at the same time so they are prepared for both viruses. Some experts say older people in poor health, such as those with heart or lung disease or on home oxygen, should receive all three doses of the vaccine. there is

“You should get it as early as possible, make sure you get it pre-season, and do it all at once,” Dr. Chu said.

Adults over the age of 50 should also get the shingles vaccine if they haven’t already, and people over the age of 65 should also be enrolled in the pneumococcal vaccine. But these vaccines don’t have to be given in the fall, but at another time, Dr. Chu said.

In the fall of last year, influenza and new coronavirus vaccinations were often given together, and it seems to have been effective. However, since the RSV vaccine is new, he has little information about how he interacts with the two vaccines.

In a statement to the New York Times, the Department of Health and Human Services said, “Available data on co-administration of influenza and COVID-19 vaccines do not indicate safety concerns.”

“The FDA and CDC systems monitor vaccine safety throughout the year and will continue to do so,” the department said. “If new potential safety signals are identified, FDA and CDC will conduct further evaluations and notify the public.”

Some studies suggest that respiratory syncytial virus and influenza vaccines produced lower levels of antibodies when given together than when given one at a time. But experts say these levels are probably still high enough to protect people from the virus.

Data on the safety of the two RSV vaccines are also limited. The clinical trial recorded 6 cases of neurological problems, including Guillain-Barré syndrome, compared to 0 in the placebo group.

However, the number of cases was too small to determine whether the infected were the result of vaccination. Dr. Chu said that monitoring while the vaccine is being administered on a large scale will provide clearer information.

The CDC plans to make recommendations for co-administration of vaccines in the coming weeks.

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