Ask Dr. Mayer: What do I need to know about flu, RSV and COVID vaccines?

Are you preparing for respiratory season? While you may not be able to avoid every virus, vaccines can decrease your chances of catching COVID-19, influenza (flu) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and help you to get less sick if you do catch them. We spoke with Dr. Paul Mayer, co-medical director of El Paso County Public Health, about the vaccines and how to stay well this winter. Read the interview below or watch the video!

Who should consider getting an updated COVID-19 vaccine?

Dr. Mayer: The updated COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for all people ages 6 months and older.

What is different about the new COVID-19 vaccine?

Dr. Mayer: It’s tailored to the current circulating strains of Omicron. Studies support that it should be effective against all currently known circulating strains of coronavirus.

How long does the vaccine last?

Dr. Mayer: What we know from historical data is that typically your resistance to infection is best in the first few months after vaccination and then that immunity tends to wane over the following months. Six to nine months later, we typically see lower levels of protection.

Why should I consider getting the vaccine now?

Dr. Mayer: We’re recommending the COVID-19 vaccine at this time of year because we are now seeing an increase in cases of COVID-19 and so we’re trying to anticipate the winter surge and get people vaccinated before that surge. No vaccine is perfect, but based on historical data, the COVID-19 vaccine has been very helpful at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID. And one other, newer finding being reported on is it seems to also be very helpful at preventing long COVID, and that is definitely a significant consideration.

Why is it recommended that I get the flu shot every year?

Dr. Mayer: Because the strain of influenza virus changes year to year, so it’s very important to get a flu shot every year so that you get the flu shot that’s been tailored to the current circulating strain of influenza. I’ll mention there was a study from the Southern hemisphere showing that the current influenza vaccine is anticipated to have about a 50 percent reduction of hospitalizations this year.

When is the best time to get my flu shot?

Dr. Mayer: You should consider getting your flu shot as soon as you can. Typically, we tell most people to wait and not get their flu shot in July and August, but [by September] yes, any time is a good time to get your flu shot. And we do encourage people to get both their flu and COVID shots together for convenience.

What are the most important reasons to get a flu shot?

Dr. Mayer: Getting the flu shot’s not just good for you, it’s also good for your family and children and other people that you’re around. We know from previous data that getting the flu vaccine helps prevent getting influenza but also there are data to support that if you do get sick with influenza after a flu shot, the severity of your illness is likely to be lessened.

What is RSV?

Dr. Mayer: RSV is Respiratory Syncytial Virus. It’s a cold virus, essentially, that circulates every year. But in certain vulnerable populations, it can cause severe disease. Vulnerable populations would be children, particularly under the age of 1, and older adults over the age of 60.

Who should consider getting vaccinated against RSV?

Dr. Mayer: The picture for RSV this year is very encouraging. We have two different types of interventions that help prevent RSV. One is a vaccine. RSV vaccine is for people age 60 and older. There were some minor safety concerns, so that is not a blanket recommendation for everybody over age 60, but rather it is recommended to be given based on what’s called “shared decision-making” between the patient and the provider. Basically, balancing their risk of severe RSV with the risk of the vaccine.
The other group that’s been really recommended to get the RSV vaccine is pregnant women between 32 and 36 weeks of gestation as it can help prevent RSV in a newborn infant. Some studies have supported that that’s about 50 percent or better at protecting those newborns from being hospitalized if they get RSV.
The vaccine effectiveness studies on that vaccine in older adults are also excellent, about 80 percent protected against symptomatic disease in the first year and 57 percent the second year after vaccination.

Who is recommended to receive the monocolonal antibody treatment known as nirsevimab (brand name: Beyfortus™)?

Dr. Mayer: That monoclonal antibody is recommended for all infants under age 8 months and for high-risk infants age 8 months to 19 months. Again, a very effective therapeutic, 80 percent protection against hospitalization and 90 percent protection against ICU admission.