Can you believe it is already fall 2022? We just marked our third summer of COVID-19 infections and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. We can agree that the situation is getting better, but the pandemic is not over – the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still here. Current trends show that there are 2,500-3,000 patients with COVID-19 infection hospitalized in our ICUs each day, and an average daily death rate of 350-400 people per day. Most of these deaths occur in our most vulnerable populations, especially those over 75 years of age. While we know this virus may never be fully eliminated, we will continue to learn more about it and enhance our response in handling it.
What We Know About Vaccinations
In year three, we have clear evidence that vaccination reduces the incidence of severe infection and death. That said, we still have widespread confusion about how vaccination protects our body. An adenovirus, or messenger RNA (mRNA), can be repurposed and coded for the specific viral protein that initiates and enhances the immune response. The medical community knows how quickly a virus can mutate, so it is important to try to stay one step ahead of it. Vaccinations need to be updated frequently in order to protect ourselves and those entrusted to our care.
Most of the public safety measures regarding masking, distancing and travel have been lifted, increasing our potential for exposure to infection. Vaccination, boosting and natural immunity from a recent infection with COVID-19 will provide protection from serious disease; however, we don’t know exactly how long that protection lasts. So far, research shows immunity lasts from three months to a year. It’s important for those who care for the vulnerable populations and those who have direct contact with patients to be vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.
How Do You Know What Is Right?
The recommendations for vaccination and boosting change so frequently that it is often difficult for the public to decipher the medical lingo. On TV and social media platforms, vaccination can be controversial, so discussing it with patients can become uncomfortable in any setting. As caregivers, I feel it is our obligation to present the latest information in a factual manner and allow patients to make their own choices.
- At the end of August 2022, Pfizer and Moderna gained approval for updated booster vaccine products targeting the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.
- These products are designed specifically as boosters for adults who received the primary series. The BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of Omicron are more contagious, so your previous vaccination may not offer full protection.
- Vaccination with the newest bivariant formulation may help restore levels of antibodies and protect you from an expected surge of infections this fall.
- If it has been at least two months since your last booster shot or two months since a COVID-19 infection, you are eligible for boosting.
- The Moderna bivalent vaccine is recommended for those 18 years of age or older who completed the primary series.
- The Pfizer bivalent vaccine is recommended for those over age 12 who completed the primary series.
- If you have not had the primary series, please start there.
- The vaccines are free of charge and available at most hospitals, clinics and pharmacies in your community.
- If you care for children, please see the resources on the CDC website.
What About the Flu?
While we are on the subject of vaccination, we expect to see a rise in influenza infections this fall. The relaxation of masking, social distancing and travel restrictions increases opportunities for the spread of a host of viral infections again, including the flu. The U.S. pattern of influenza infection typically peaks in the months of December through February but may extend as far as May. It’s important for us to recognize the flu is a formidable public health threat, as it kills 250,000 to 650,000 people a year worldwide. According to the CDC, there is no need to wait between getting a flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine; it is safe to get both recommended shots at the same time.
How to Be a Smart Observer
Most of us want to time our shots to protect us through the worst parts of the fall and winter months. Although there’s no perfect way to predict the rates of COVID-19 and influenza in your community, you can be a smart observer.
- Pay attention to your local news, and keep up with the rates of infection in your community by using the CDC’s tracking devices.
- If the rates of infection are increasing in your region, it’s time to get your vaccines.
- It will take two-four weeks for your shot to be fully effective.
- More of us are traveling again, including international destinations.
- Be an informed traveler and plan well in advance.
- Use the resources available on the World Health Organization and CDC websites to check the rates of international infection, the required vaccines, the required documents and the public health restrictions in the countries where you plan to visit.
How will you continue to protect yourself, patients and others around you?