Vaccines offer protection from severe illness from major respiratory viruses

Published 6:01 am Friday, October 20, 2023

Along with the seasonal influenza virus (flu) and the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), COVID-19 has become a part of the respiratory virus season. Fall and winter are times when viruses that cause respiratory disease usually circulate more heavily in the community. Although some people have mild symptoms when they catch the flu, COVID-19 or RSV, others get sick enough to be hospitalized.

For the first time in U.S. history, vaccines for all three major respiratory viruses – COVID-19, flu and RSV- will be available this fall. Make sure you communicate with your healthcare provider to determine your vaccine eligibility and recommendations. This will be an important strategy to prevent severe disease and protect yourself and others around you.
Influenza Vaccine
Influenza vaccination is recommended each year for persons 6 months and older with rare exceptions. Talk with your healthcare provider to decide whether vaccination is right for you. Exceptions might be if you have certain chronic conditions or allergies or if you have had a severe allergic reaction in the past.

Data collected on the current 2023-2024 flu vaccine used in the Southern Hemisphere 2023 winter season (our summer) showed that these vaccines performed well against circulating strains of influenza virus. Studies showed that those who received flu vaccines were half as likely to be hospitalized or progress to severe disease.
Flu shots will be given at all county health department clinics. Go to alabamapublichealth.gov for more information about hours and locations.
COVID-19 Vaccine
The Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices has approved updated 2023-24 COVID-19 vaccines for all Americans 6 months and older who have not received a vaccine in the past two months. Vaccination remains the best protection against COVID-19-related hospitalization and death. Vaccination also reduces the chance of suffering the effects of Long COVID, which can develop during or following acute infection and last for an extended time. The updated mRNA vaccines are produced by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.  An updated Novavax vaccine has been authorized and should be available soon.
People in high-risk groups who are more likely to get very sick include:
· Adults 50 years and older. Risk increases with age.
· People with certain medical conditions. These include chronic lung disease, heart disease, or weakened immune systems.
U.S. households may order free COVID-19 tests through https://www.covid.gov/testsThese tests detect the currently circulating COVID-19 variants. Alabamians are encouraged to use the free tests.
Treatments for COVID-19 are widely available. If you test positive and are an older adult or someone who is at high risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, treatment may be available. Contact a healthcare provider right away after a positive test to determine if you are eligible, even if your symptoms are mild right now.
To help protect against COVID-19, the updated monovalent COVID-19 vaccine is available at county health departments. The county health departments will serve all individuals, but those with health insurance that covers the vaccine are encouraged to go to vaccines.gov to find the nearest location that offers COVID-19 vaccine rather than county health departments where supplies may be limited or unavailable due to ordering and shipping delays.
Children eligible for the Vaccines for Children program (VFC) can also receive the vaccine at no charge from a provider in that program as well as the county health departments.  The VFC program covers children from birth through 18 years of age who are:
·        Medicaid enrolled
·        Uninsured
·        American Indian or Alaskan Native

The Alabama Department of Public Health is also participating in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Bridge Access Program which offers free vaccine to people with

·        No health insurance (19 years and older)
·        Ages 19 years and older who
o        Have insurance that does not cover vaccines
o        Are American Indian, Native Alaskan, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander
No one will be denied service due to inability to pay.  As of this date, all county health departments have vaccines available through the Bridge Access Program and VFC.
RSV Vaccine
RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms, but it can be serious in infants and older adults. The CDC recommends
· Vaccine for people who are 32-36 weeks pregnant to protect their babies from severe RSV.
· A new RSV antibody to protect babies and some toddlers from severe RSV.
· A new RSV vaccine for adults ages 60 and over.

More information is available at https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/