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Vaccines arrive as COVID lingers and flu season approaches

On Sept. 12, the CDC reported that the latest COVID-19 vaccine is available containing the latest strains of the Omicron variants. This is the first fall and winter season where vaccines are available for the three viruses responsible for the most hospitalizations. COVID-19, Respiratory Syncytial Virus, and the flu. The FDA approved and authorized for emergency use updated mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (2023-2024 formula) that include a monovalent (single) component that corresponds to the omicron variant XBB.1.5 of SARS-CoV-2.

These vaccines were updated to provide better protection against COVID-19 caused by circulating variants as we transition into fall and head into 2024.

Sharp Family Medicine Dr. Kaveh Bahmanpour said these three vaccines are what are discussed in the medical field more now. COVID is still a threat, flu season is approaching, and the cases of RSV surged in 2022 as restrictions from the pandemic began lifting.

Bahmanpour said starting with the flu vaccine, many people get the vaccine every year, and many do not.

“Normally from September on, the flu vaccine is available in the pharmacies, the doctors, and emergency care offices,” he said. “In my opinion, it is better to get the flu vaccines in October or after. If you get the flu vaccine too early, flu season is normally in January and February, it might be a little too far ahead. In previous years with COVID, we did not have as many flu cases, but as COVID has subsided, there are more flu cases in the emergency rooms and urgent cares. There are flu vaccines for six months and older, so anyone can get the flu vaccine for their age group.”

RSV is one of the newer problems the medical community has been dealing with, said Bahmanpour. He said previously, RSV was prone to children under the age of two, a pneumonia-type RSV or upper respiratory infection.

“But recently, we have seen more cases in adults and more in the geriatric populations,” he said. “The reasons for getting the RSV vaccine now are more based on mortalities and morbidities. CDC guidelines say if you have diabetes, immunodeficiency disorders, taking medications to suppress your immune system, or HIV, it is recommended to get RSV vaccines.”

Not everybody should get the RSV vaccine, he said.

“At this point (people) 65 and older with comorbidities should get RSV vaccines,” he said. He said people under 65 with comorbidities should also get the vaccine. “But I will say, first, check with your doctor before getting any RSV vaccines.”

Bahmanpour said with COVID, it is a little trickier, with different COVID boosters, first and second COVID vaccines, and with the CDC is recommending the latest release of the COVID vaccine. He said the previous bivalent vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna produced is no longer available, and the new booster vaccine targets the latest Omicron variants that have been circulating in the community.
“We had more COVID infections even with those who had the vaccines, and the reason was that the variant was different than what was in the vaccine was made of. The newer vaccine is targeting the omicron variant XBB.1.5 of SARS-CoV-2, which will hopefully control the infection now.”

Bahmanpour said if a person has recently had COVID, the CDC recommends waiting three months after before getting the updated vaccine. He said anyone who had the two-shot vaccines, and last year’s booster, if they are five years and older, should get one updated COVID vaccine. He said there is a different vaccine for children six months to 4 years old.

Bahmanpour said there is no longer a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but there are three vaccines available now. Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax, which is not a mRNA vaccine, but rather a protein subunit vaccine, like those used in flu shots, and is recommended for only people 18 years old and older.

“It is basically for adults, and the primary series, and the boosters are available,” he said. “If you ask me, if anyone wants to get the boosters now, I will say go with Pfizer or Moderna. I want to emphasize that the new booster we have now, it is completely different from last year’s.”

Bahmanpour said it is now looking like COVID vaccines are moving towards being more like flu vaccines, being update each year, updated with the latest variants, and there is talk about combining the COVID boosters with the yearly flu vaccinations.

Bahmanpour said also available for those 65 and older, or those with immune deficiencies, the pneumonia vaccine is something to talk to your doctor about.

Bahmanpour said that many COVID cases come from those traveling, especially on airplanes in closed quarters. He suggested if traveling in the fall, that a person should wear no less than an N95 mask, as it is the most affective mask to wear for prevention of spread.

Paxlovid is still available and helps treat mild to moderate COVID in adults at high risk for severe disease. Paxlovid is available to everyone 12 years and older.

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