Written by Dr. Joyce Grissom, HNFS Chief Medical Officer
This fall, we once again will be facing a “triple threat” to our respiratory health: COVID, respiratory syncytial virus (known as RSV), and the flu. Fortunately, we have “triple protection” in the form of vaccines.
COVID is still here, and there’s a new variant, E.G.5 or Eris, ironically named for the Greek god for chaos, strife and discord. Eris makes up for about 20% of current confirmed COVID cases, but there are other variants, including FL.1.5.1 (Fornax) and BA.2.86. Eris is more easily spread than previous variants, but currently, there’s no evidence it’s more severe. Still, we have seen an uptick in hospitalizations for COVID-19. Many of those hospitalized were in high-risk groups and not current with vaccine booster doses.
We know immunity decreases over time. Various manufacturers will be releasing new COVID boosters this fall, and we expect these to be effective against the new variants. COVID is still out there and is an unwelcome guest at any party, even if cases are relatively mild.
RSV and New Vaccines
Last year, we saw a particularly high rate of RSV hospitalizations among young children. In most people, RSV causes mild upper respiratory illnesses like the common cold. However, RSV can cause more severe symptoms in children younger than five. For this age group, yearly statistics include:
- Nearly 2.1 million RSV-related outpatient visits
- 58,000 to 80,000 hospitalizations
- 100 to 300 deaths
There’s a new FDA-approved vaccine, Beyfortus (nirsimulab-alip). This is a single dose shot for children up to 2 years old. It’s expected to be available ahead of the 2023-24 RSV season (October-March). Synagis, also known as palivizumab, remains available for newborns and infants who meet high-risk criteria.
For older adults, RSV can still be serious. Those particularly at risk include those with chronic heart or lung disease, weakened immune systems, or who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities. If you are age 60 or older, talk with your doctor about your risk factors and whether new RSV vaccines (by GSK or Pfizer) may be appropriate.
Finally, there is our old friend, influenza or “flu” for short. Getting vaccinated against the flu can help reduce your chances of being hospitalized for flu-related complications. Flu vaccines are adjusted yearly based on predicted variants. The CDC recommends everyone older than 6 months of age get a flu vaccine (shot or nasal spray). Vaccines usually become available in early summer, but in September or October is generally when you should get vaccinated. If you are in your third trimester of pregnancy, your doctor may recommend you get a flu vaccine in July or August to protect your infants for the first few months after birth.
Fall and winter are right around the corner, which means more indoor time with friends and family. Don’t let preventable respiratory diseases sideline you from the fun. TRICARE covers age-appropriate doses of vaccines, as recommend by the CDC. You can get these at no cost if you go to a network provider or pharmacy. Be sure to talk with your health provider about what vaccine protections are best for you and your family.