Preparing for Respiratory Virus Season: COVID-19, Flu, and RSV

Flu season is ramping up

Respiratory viruses are with us throughout the year, but infections tend to spike in the fall and winter months as we spend more time indoors.

For that reason, the arrival of fall doesn’t just mean pumpkin spice and sweater weather: it’s also the beginning of respiratory virus season.

Respiratory virus season doesn’t have an official start or end date, making it important to prepare in advance if you want to keep yourself as healthy as possible.

In 2022, we saw an early start to influenza (flu) season, a significant spike in cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and ever-present COVID-19 combine to stoke fears of a “tripledemic.”

While it’s too soon to predict what we’ll see from each of those viruses this year, we do have some indications of what to expect with the flu.

The southern hemisphere (where seasons are opposite ours) had an early start to their flu season this year. What happens with flu in the southern hemisphere is often a bellwether for what we’ll see during our flu season.

Australia, in particular, had a severe flu season, especially among unvaccinated children – underscoring the importance of flu vaccinations.

The good news is that we have tools to protect against each of these viruses in the form of vaccines.

Below, you can find virus-specific tips on what you and your loved ones can do to prevent serious illness this fall and winter.

Tips for Flu

The CDC recommends that all individuals aged 6 months and older receive a flu vaccine each year. 

Unfortunately, vaccine hesitancy has become a growing problem – for example, only 40% of older adults have received a first bivalent COVID-19 vaccine booster dose.

Patients should not let this hesitancy include the flu vaccine, which has many proven benefits.

These include reducing the severity of flu symptoms in the event of infection and helping to reduce serious illness and hospitalizations.

There are several different types of flu vaccines. The right one for you will depend on several factors, including your age (e.g. individuals over the age of 65 should receive a high-dose vaccine) and health situation (allergies or chronic diseases may affect which vaccine you receive).

If you’re unsure which flu vaccine is right for you, speak to your primary care provider before getting a shot.

Flu vaccines generally become available in late August or early September. 

Protection is strongest for about six months after vaccination, so the optimal time to get vaccinated is in late September or throughout October.

For patients at South Shore Medical Center, the Medical Center will hold drive-thru flu vaccine clinics beginning in early October. Patients who are not good candidates for the drive-thru can receive their flu vaccine through a scheduled nurse visit.

Patients can also receive a flu vaccine during a regularly scheduled appointment (like a yearly physical) during flu season.

For non-SSMC patients, flu vaccines are widely available in the community – including at Health Express walk-in urgent care centers and retail pharmacies.

Tips for RSV

RSV is a common virus that doesn’t develop into serious illness for most people.

However, RSV can be dangerous for certain patient populations, including infants, older adults, and individuals with chronic medical conditions.

Last year’s RSV season was severe – but this year, we have new tools at our disposal in the form of RSV vaccines.

Two vaccines, Arexvy and Abrysvo, are approved for adults aged 60 and older. This one-time vaccine can be administered at the same time as the flu vaccine.

An RSV vaccine is most beneficial for individuals with immunocompromising conditions, chronic lung disease (including COPD and severe asthma), congestive heart failure, diabetes, chronic liver disease/cirrhosis, chronic kidney disease, and patients on dialysis.

Older individuals and individuals living in chronic care facilities may also be good candidates for an RSV vaccine. 

Patients should verify coverage of the RSV vaccine with their insurance providers prior to getting the vaccine.

South Shore Health will not be distributing RSV vaccines at this time. RSV vaccines for adults are available at retail pharmacies.

Tips for COVID-19

As we all continue to adjust to living with COVID-19 as part of our new normal, vaccines and booster shots remain the best way to prevent serious illness.

COVID-19 continues to evolve – and to keep pace, our vaccines need to evolve with it.

Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Novovax have been working on updated vaccines that will more specifically target COVID-19 variants.

The FDA approved the new Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines on September 11, while the new Novovax remains under FDA review as of that same date.

These updated vaccines will be available nationwide in mid-September.

The CDC recommends that individuals aged 6 months and older receive an updated COVID-19 vaccine this fall, regardless of whether or not they’ve received any COVID-19 vaccines to date.

Patients who recently had COVID-19 should wait three to six months before getting a vaccine or booster dose.

Individuals aged 65 and older may get a second updated vaccine 4 months or later after receiving their first updated vaccine.

Children ages 6 months to 6 years may require additional doses of updated vaccine depending on their individual vaccine history – speak to your child’s pediatrician for specifics.

Updated COVID-19 vaccines will be widely available at retail pharmacies.