It’s almost time to roll up your sleeve and get jabbed with the latest vaccines.
Last year, according to the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, 290,000 people were hospitalized with influenza and 19,000 succumbed to the virus across the nation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported 26 million illnesses due to the virus and 154 pediatric deaths.
In addition, COVID-19 is increasing across the state as well as the nation.
“While many of these people are not very ill, we have seen an increase in the number of people coming into the ERs across the state with COVID-19, and we have seen a slight increase in the number of people hospitalized for COVID,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Leisha Nolen. “The majority of these cases are older than 65. The number of people seeking this level of care is still very low, but we are watching and concerned that the increase could be more significant as the fall starts.”
While this season’s influenza vaccines are already available, Nolen said updated COVID-19 vaccines have yet to be approved but are expected to be available this fall. She said because the virus is relatively unpredictable, it’s important to stay up to date on vaccines as they become approved.
The latest COVID omicron subvariant, Eris (named after the Greek goddess of strife and discord), has been spreading rapidly across the world. Symptoms seem to be mild as of right now and include runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing and sore throat.
The vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is also available for children 8 months and younger, born during — or entering — their first RSV season, which is typically fall through spring.
“For a small group of children between the ages of 8 and 19 months who are at increased risk of severe RSV disease, such as children who are severely immunocompromised, a dose is recommended in their second season,” said Kayla Strong, manager of vaccines for children at the state health department. “In addition, adults aged 60 and older can receive the RSV vaccine.”
Strong said RSV is one of the most common causes of childhood respiratory illnesses. It is estimated that 58,000 to 80,000 children younger than age 5, most of them infants, are hospitalized each year with the virus.
“In addition, the CDC estimates that as many as 160,000 older adults are hospitalized every year from RSV,” she said. “This is the first year we have had vaccines to help protect our most vulnerable populations.”
This year’s flu vaccine will cover four strains: Influenza A H1N1, influenza A H3N2, influenza B Yamagata, and influenza B Victoria. This year, additional safety measures for people allergic to eggs are no longer recommended, according to the CDC. This is because studies have shown reactions in people with egg allergies are unlikely.
Nolen said people should begin getting the influenza vaccine in September or October to provide the greatest amount of protection.
“The best way to predict what will happen with flu in the coming year is to look at what has happened in the Southern Hemisphere during their flu season, which occurs during our summer,” she said. “Australia’s 2023 flu season was very similar to their 2019 flu season. That suggests this will be a moderate year. However, this can certainly be impacted by many factors, including the weather and how many people receive the flu vaccine.”
Nolen said the CDC has a new team that is specifically working on models to predict respiratory illnesses and they are expected to release those models in the coming week.
So far, all three vaccines are being administered separately, but it is safe to receive RSV and influenza during the same appointment.
As with previous years, the health department recommends getting vaccinated, washing your hands often, covering your mouth and nose when sneezing, and staying home when you’re sick.