Flu Season and COVID-19: Here’s How to Avoid Infections This Fall

Kristina Nokes receives a flu shot from Scott Kendall at Rite Aid Pharmacy in Murray August 7, 2012. Doctors think this flu season could be serious in the United States after the Australian season has ended – and with it has claimed the lives of 300 people and caused 1,700 hospitalizations. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY – Doctors think this flu season could be serious in the United States after the Australian season ended – and with it claimed the lives of 300 people and caused 1,700 hospitalizations.

Kencee Graves, associate professor of internal medicine and chief medical officer for inpatient health at the University of Utah Health, noted that Utah has not seen flu outbreaks in the past two years. .

Australia – which the United States is watching to predict what states might see – has seen a sharp rise in severe flu cases this year. In 2021, the country had no flu deaths and only a handful of hospitalizations. But this season, the country has quintupled the number of serious cases and deaths, Graves said.

“That’s what worries us a bit in the United States about how serious this flu season is,” she said.

This makes this year an important year to get your flu shot. At the same time, the coronavirus continues to circulate in the community – just not at the levels it once had. The flu shot “is pretty predictable from year to year,” Graves said. The vaccine differs from year to year depending on which flu variant is circulating, but the timing “is always exactly the same”.

Doctors recommend people get the flu shot in September or October, before Halloween. Flu season begins in October and continues through March, according to Graves.

Flu shots are now available statewide.

It’s okay to get the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time, according to Graves. But if someone has had a severe vaccine response in the past, it might be wise to get their flu and COVID-19 shots at different times.

Current COVID-19 Protection

A person’s first round of vaccines confers immunity to COVID-19, and then follow-up boosters add to that immunity. The original recalls were for the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, noted Dr. Hannah Imlay, assistant professor of internal medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health.

But successive waves of different variants have swept the world, she said, and vaccines don’t target them equally. They protect against serious illness and death, she said. But the new bivalent booster targets current variants as well as the ancestral strain.

Booster vaccine availability can be found at vaccines.gov/search/.

People who have already received boosters “are pretty well protected,” Imlay said, but immunity to any type of COVID-19 infection “tends to decline after a few months.”

The new bivalent boosters are allowed to be taken at least two months after the last vaccine dose, regardless of how many boosters a person receives, according to Imlay.

She said “spacing” vaccine doses and infection helps increase protection against the disease. If you have had a recent COVID-19 infection, it may be best to wait at least three months before receiving the bivalent booster.

“You get a lot of immune priming from your infection, you get a lot of immune priming from your most recent dose of vaccine, so wait a bit before you get the bivalent booster,” Imlay said as a “general recommendation.” .

But those who are immunocompromised or who expect to attend a big event soon may want to take the bivalent vaccine sooner.

Doctors don’t yet know how long immunity wanes after the bivalent booster, but Imlay said they expect immunity could last between four and six months. When asked if someone should get vaccinated before Halloween or Thanksgiving events, Imlay said they would receive a booster at least 10 days before a potential COVID-19 exposure event.

Mixing and matching vaccines is OK, Imlay said, urging people to get the shots that are available to them.

Asked if she thinks the pandemic is over, Imlay pointed out that people are still getting COVID-19 — with an average of 70,000 new cases and 500 deaths every day in the United States.

“Having said that, many policy decisions and choices that we have made as a population have really turned this into a large-scale public health response into a response that hopefully is more sustainable and has sort of focused on the endemic model,” she said, adding that the country will continue to see “a high number of cases.”

Tools against disease are now being promoted at a “personal” level of protection rather than a population level, Imlay added.

She said she suspects, based on modeling, the state will likely have another fall wave of the disease, but the bivalent booster could help prevent “immune evasion” — that is. that is, when the virus has changed enough to be able to evade people’s immunity.

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Ashley Imlay covers state politics and breaking news for KSL.com. A lifelong Utahn, Ashley also worked as a reporter for the Deseret News and is a graduate of Dixie State University.

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