Booster season this autumn includes both the flu and COVID-19 Vaccine
For many people around the country booster season means football and band practice. It means swarms of teenagers running onto fields as anxious parents try to catch glimpses of play while selling hot dogs and sodas from painted plywood huts. In the medical profession, the changing of the leaves and the cooler weather means an upcoming viral season and the need for boosters. You guessed it - more shots.
This year we need to focus on two boosters, the first is the old standby: flu shot. Yes, the annual flu shot is actually a booster! Even though we commonly think of it as just a generic “flu shot,” this vaccine is specially formulated each year to hopefully help protect the greatest number of people from contracting or experiencing severe influenza infection. Every spring the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) makes a recommendation for the content of vaccine for the upcoming flu season. Like many past combinations, this year’s vaccine includes a mixture of protection against H1N1, an additional Influenza A strain, and 2 Influenza B strains. This combination is the FDA’s best guess as to what flu strains will be prominent the following fall and winter, based on available data from prior flu seasons. Each flu shot provides about 6 months of protection against the strains of influenza included, so your system needs to be reminded - or re-boosted - prior to every flu season. Since we see most influenza in the winter months in the Northern Hemisphere, it is recommended that most people get their flu shots in September and October. Thinking about pumpkins? Get your flu shot!
The second recommended booster for the 2022-2023 season is, you guessed it - COVID. Although none of us want to think about that nasty coronavirus anymore, we should all acknowledge that it’s still out there. And given the need to get your flu shot anyway, why not go ahead and offer up the other arm for the NEW bivalent COVID booster? Yup. New. Even if you had your original COVID series of shots and had a booster sometime in 2021 or 2022, it is still recommended that you receive the NEW bivalent booster that covers the two most common strains of Omicron still circulating in the country. These Omicron boosters became available in September and are recommended for everyone over 50 for whom it has been 5 months or more since their primary series or last booster. Omicron has hit the sweet spot for a coronavirus strain. It is very contagious but generally not too deadly, so there is maximum possibility for transmission and reproduction of the virus. Because of its success, Omicron has been outcompeting other coronavirus variants this year. This new booster protects specifically against several of the Omicron strains of the virus and offers different protection than the standard COVID series and boosters.
It's easy for me to think about boosters this time of year – as a medical professional, I have rolled up my sleeve for the influenza jab every year. As parents of a child with asthma and a child with diabetes, my husband and I have brought the children in every year since they were 6 months old - with my husband frequent demonstrating that it “isn’t that bad” to the children when they were younger! This year my husband, 19-year-old daughter, and I got BOTH the flu shot and the Omicron bivalent booster together at our local drug store. Additionally, my 21-year-old son got his flu shot at work. It’s a little more inconvenient to go to a drug store versus having the shots available at work, but the benefits are in both places. You can get any additional vaccines you may need (us older folks should think about shingles and pneumonia), and if you happen to “misplace” (aka lose) your vaccine card, you could have a new one filled out by the pharmacist if you got all of your shots from the same chain.
CDC.gov and your local pharmacist or primary care provider all remain excellent resources if you want to find out more information about available vaccines and recommended boosters. For this fall…go boosters! Yay, team
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