Don’t call it a comeback.
COVID is still around, as many who were unlucky enough to get it over the summer can attest. But experts are bracing for an uptick in cases and hospitalizations as the weather turns cooler.
And while a distinct seasonal pattern—like the increase in flu typically associated with the winter months—hasn’t emerged for COVID, clinicians are recommending that everyone age 6 months and older get an updated COVID vaccine.
“COVID vaccines continue to protect against severe COVID illness and significantly decrease risk for hospitalization and death especially in vulnerable people who have chronic health conditions, immunocompromising conditions, or are of advanced age,” said Laraine Washer, M.D., professor of internal medicine and medical director of infection prevention at U-M Health.
The newest COVID vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September and is rolling out in pharmacies and clinics across the country.
Washer notes that this vaccine should not be considered a booster.
“We are not just boosting immunity from prior vaccinations but generating a new immune response to currently circulating variants,” she said.
The new formulation no longer contains the spike protein of the original strain of SARS-CoV2 that launched the pandemic in 2020.
The vaccine for 2023-2024 is matched to Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 and offers protection from severe disease and hospitalization for all currently circulating variants, including FL.1.5.1, BA2.86, EG.5 and other descendants of Omicron.
Protecting against hospitalization is especially important as the respiratory disease season, and its potential burden on hospitals, is now made worse by the addition of COVID to flu and RSV.
The good news is there is now an FDA approved RSV vaccine for people ages 60 and older and for pregnant people in their third trimester.
As for timing, Washer notes can get your updated COVID vaccine as soon as two months have passed since any prior COVID vaccine and three months after your last COVID infection.
Plus, you can also get your flu shot and COVID shot at the same time.
Finally, all of the other protections we got accustomed to during the pandemic—including wearing masks when you are sick, in crowds, or when around people at high risk for complications from respiratory illness, washing hands often, and ventilating your indoor spaces when gathering—can help protect you from getting sick this season.
Written by Kelly Malcom.
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