Health officials are making another urgent push to encourage flu and COVID vaccinations, as multiple respiratory viruses swirl around the country inundating both pediatric and adult hospitals. About 75% of pediatric hospital beds are filled and flu hospitalizations are at the highest level in a decade, for this time in the season.
“Levels of flu-like illness, which includes people going to the doctor with a fever, cough or sore throat are at either high or very high levels in 47 jurisdictions and that is up from 36 jurisdictions just last week,” said Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a telebriefing today.
This week, the CDC is observing National Influenza Vaccination Week to encourage everyone over 6 months and older to get a flu shot. Experts say it’s not too late to get vaccinated.
“I want to emphasize that flu vaccines can be lifesaving and importantly, there is still time to get vaccinated to be protected against flu this season and its potentially serious consequences,” said Walensky.
This flu season has been one of the most significant in recent memory with nearly 9 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths from flu so far, according to CDC estimates.
This year’s flu vaccine, as well as the updated COVID booster, have been formulated to better protect against currently circulating strains. Experts say you can get both shots at the same time.
“You can get both [flu and COVID] vaccines at the same time. I know everyone's tired of getting shots. We all have booster fatigue. But understand, you could get really, really sick this year and ruin your holiday celebrations if you don't get vaccinated,” said Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, board chair of the American Medical Association during the CDC telebriefing.
Those who have received the updated COVID booster have a 15 times lower risk of death from the disease, according to CDC data. Those over the age of 5 are currently eligible for the shot, while Pfizer and BioNTech have just submitted an application to the FDA to authorize the shot as a booster in children 6 months through 4 years of age, according to a press release out today.
COVID hospitalizations are beginning to trend upwards again as well, with those over the age of 70 seeing a nearly 28% increase in the past week.
While there are vaccines available for flu and COVID, RSV is another threatening virus that has especially impacted pediatric hospitals – a virus with no vaccine currently authorized in the U.S.
If you do get diagnosed with flu and COVID, there are antivirals available that can reduce the impact of symptoms as well as the possibility of severe illness and death.
“There are specific antivirals for flu and specific antivirals for COVID. But flu antivirals don't work for COVID and vice versa. And the only way to know for sure what you have is to get tested,” said Fryhofer.
Experts also reiterated the importance of staying home when sick in addition to getting your shots.
“Please stay home when you're sick. Share your love by not sharing your sickness. This holiday season, please get vaccinated, it's the best way to protect yourself, it’s the best way to protect your loved ones and it's the best way to protect your community,” said Dr. Sandra Fryhofer.