With the transition of quaking Aspen leaves from green to yellow, and the emergence of snow-capped mountain peaks, Colorado is in full-fledged fall season. With that comes the typical surge in respiratory viral infections. But this year, experts postulate a particularly troubling season. Not only have pediatric wards been inundated with earlier and more severe cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, but the COVID-19 pandemic also continues. Amid that, we’ve seen a more severe influenza season in the southern hemisphere that appears to be replicating in the southern regions of the United States. Some are concerned about a possible “tripledemic” of COVID-19, flu, and RSV that will place an excess burden on an already strained healthcare system and increase mortality rates above the more than one million already lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, we look specifically at influenza. The following Team Vaccine Blog includes important flu vaccine information from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Centers for Diseases Control (CDC). Read on to see how you can keep yourself and others from falling to the flu this season.
What’s different about the 2022-23 influenza season?
Over the past two years, measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 contributed to historically low flu transmission and severity. Now, many of our pre-pandemic behaviors have resumed. We are back to mingling with others outside of our households indoors, without the protection of masks and social distancing. Those measures have helped safeguard the spread of influenza over the past couple years, so without them, we are sure to see increased flu activity. For instance, the 2021-22 flu season was by all accounts mild, starting later in the season and with relatively low severity of disease. This year, providers began seeing influenza two months earlier than usual in September. While the severity of the upcoming flu season is hard to predict, experts use past flu seasons to determine what the upcoming season might look like. They also look to the southern hemisphere, where influenza gets an earlier start. In Australia, health officials witnessed earlier, more severe flu cases during their fall and winter seasons.
Experts wager this year’s flu season will be much more typical than the last two, if not more severe.
The seasonal flu vaccine offers the best protection against flu infection and severe outcomes like hospitalization and death.
The best time to get the flu vaccine is before the end of October. But it’s not too late! Providers – including retail pharmacies and your local public health department – should offer the flu vaccine as long as the flu is circulating and the vaccine is available. Annual flu vaccines are recommended for everyone six months of age and up as long as they do not have a contraindication. If you haven’t yet received your flu vaccine, know that it takes two weeks to offer full protection. The sooner you get the vaccine, the sooner you reap the benefit of protection. Make sure you get the vaccine before celebrating with friends and family this holiday season!
There are over 100 subtypes of the influenza virus. CDPHE notes that all flu vaccines for the 2022-23 season will be quadrivalent. This means they will contain ingredients from two influenza A strains and two influenza B strains. Like other viruses, influenza changes and mutates as it circulates, so our immune systems may not recognize new variants; this is why an annual vaccine is important. The vaccine components change each year so our bodies can best fight off whichever strain is predominantly circulating.
For at-risk populations, flu vaccination is especially important.
If you are pregnant, the flu vaccine is especially important, not just for you, but for your baby. Pregnant people are at increased risk of hospitalization and death. Getting the flu also increases the chances of complications such as preterm birth, low birth weight, and birth defects. Also, infants younger than six months of age are not eligible for the flu vaccine. Getting a flu vaccine while pregnant helps pass immunity on to your baby so that they are protected during this period when they are still too young to receive the vaccine. For more information, this article from Vaccinate Your Family provides more details about vaccines during pregnancy.
A specific flu vaccine is recommended for adults 65 and older. People in this age group make up a majority of hospitalizations and deaths due to flu. For this reason, the CDC recommends a higher dose flu or adjuvanted vaccine over the unadjuvanted standard flu vaccine. Adjuvants in vaccines simply enhance the immune system’s ability to fight infections over a longer time.
How can you contribute to stopping the spread of flu and other respiratory illnesses this season?
It is important to keep up healthy habits like hand washing, minimizing the spread of respiratory droplets by sneezing and coughing into elbows, and isolating yourself from others when you feel sick. You can also limit your chances of becoming sick, or spreading illness to others, by wearing a mask in indoor, crowded spaces. However for flu, the flu vaccine is the most powerful tool to prevent virus spread, severe illness, hospitalization, and death. The flu vaccine is safe to get with other vaccines, including COVID-19. Ensure you’re vaccinated to stop the spread and protect the ones you love over the coming holiday season and the rest of the respiratory virus season. Don’t fall to the flu!
Immunize Colorado was formed in 1991 in response to alarmingly low vaccination rates across the state. At the time, only about 50% of Colorado’s children were adequately vaccinated. A group of physicians and other concerned individuals came together to strategize how to protect Coloradans from vaccine-preventable diseases and increase vaccine uptake. Much work remains. You can donate or discover other ways to get involved in supporting our commitment to healthy Colorado communities today!