Updated COVID-19 vaccines are coming soon, just in time to pair them with flu shots. And this fall, the first vaccine for another scary virus called RSV is rolling out to older adults and pregnant women.
Doctors hope that enough people will get vaccinated to help avoid another “triple medic” like last year when hospitals were overwhelmed by early flu season, an attack of RSV, or an increase in respiratory syncytial virus and winter coronavirus.
The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has continued to rise since late summer, though not nearly as much as this time last year, and RSV is already on the rise in parts of the Southeast.
Read more: New Covid booster coming soon: Who should get it and how much will it cost?
Approval of the updated COVID-19 shots is expected within days The new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they are among the tools that will help put the United States in “our strongest position yet” to avoid another chaotic respiratory season.
“There will be a lot of viruses this winter. That’s why we want to get ahead of it,” said CDC chief Dr. Mandy Cohen.
Here’s what you need to know about fall vaccinations:
Why do we need more covid shots?
A nurse prepares a dose of Pfizer vaccine at Roseland Community Hospital (Image: Brian Casella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images on Dec. 30, 2021)
The ever-evolving coronavirus is not going away. Just as the flu shot is updated every year, the Food and Drug Administration has given manufacturers a new recipe for the COVID-19 vaccine this fall.
The updated shots have a single target, an Omicron descendant called XBB.1.5. It’s a big change. The COVID-19 vaccines offered since last year are a combination shot targeting the original coronavirus strain and a much earlier Omicron version, making them very outdated.
Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax have all developed new supplies.
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The FDA will soon decide whether each company has met safety, efficacy and quality standards. Then the CDC must sign off before starting the vaccination. A CDC advisory panel is scheduled to meet Tuesday to make recommendations about how best to use the latest shots.
Earlier this month, European regulators approved Pfizer’s updated vaccine for adults and children younger than 6 months, for this fall.
Will the new shot be effective?
Health officials are optimistic, barring a new mutant.
As expected, the months it took to modify the XBB.1.5 vaccine faded. Today, there is a soup of different coronavirus variants that cause illness, and the most common ones are fairly closely related. Recent lab testing by vaccine manufacturers and other research groups suggests that the updated shots will provide crossover protection.
Previous vaccinations or infections continue to help prevent severe disease and death, but protection wanes over time, especially against milder infections as the virus continues to evolve. Although the FDA last spring allowed seniors and others at high risk to receive an additional booster dose, most Americans have not received the vaccine in nearly a year.
“The best thing people can do to maintain a normal lifestyle is to keep getting their booster shots,” said David Montefiori, a vaccine expert at Duke University.
Who needs a flu shot?
The CDC recommends getting an annual flu shot for everyone 6 months of age and older. Best time is late October.
Like COVID-19, influenza can be especially dangerous for certain groups, including the very young, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems and lung or heart disease.
There are several types of flu vaccine to choose from, including a nasal spray version for certain young people. More importantly, three shots are specifically recommended for seniors to choose from because they are proven to do a better job of revitalizing an older adult’s immune system.
Can I get a flu shot and a COVID-19 shot at the same time?
The CDC says there is no difference in effectiveness or side effects if people get these vaccines at the same time, although one in each arm may be more comfortable.
What is the new RSV vaccine?
RSV is a cold-like nuisance to most people, and not as well-known as the flu. But RSV packs hospitals every winter and can be deadly for children under 5, the elderly and people with certain high-risk health problems. Most notorious for inflammation of the small airways in children, leaving them short of breath, it is a common cause of pneumonia in adults.
RSV vaccines from GSK and Pfizer are approved for adults 60 years and older. The CDC advises seniors to ask their doctor if they should get the one-dose shot.
The FDA also approved Pfizer’s RSV vaccine to be given late in pregnancy so that mothers can protect their newborns. CDC recommendations on that use are expected later this month.
Also still to come: advice on whether RSV vaccines should be given together with flu and COVID-19 shots.
What about children and RSV?
There’s another new shot parents may hear about this fall: an injection of lab-made antibodies to protect babies from RSV.
This is different than a vaccine, which teaches the body to make its own infection-fighting antibodies, but is just as protective.
The FDA recently approved Befortus from Sanofi and AstraZeneca. A single-dose vaccine is recommended for all children younger than 8 months before the first RSV season.