It’s going to be a tough fall for Covid and flu shots

For health workers leading vaccination campaigns, this will be a challenging fall.

The U.S. plan to roll out updated Covid-19 boosters not only faces logistical challenges in the regular flu vaccination drive, but also questions about when people should get the new vaccines to ensure they are best protected. Through our third Covid winter.

It’s a balancing act that health care workers face every year with the flu. Vaccinating tens of millions of people will take weeks. It takes several weeks after vaccination for people’s immune systems to become fully functional. Even so, vaccinators don’t want to shoot too early either. The strength of the flu shot weakens as the months go by, so if the peak of the season is in February, there is concern that someone who gets vaccinated in September may lose some of their protection.

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The potency of Covid vaccines is also decreasing ability to block infection fading within months – but most importantly, they protect against harsh effects and last even longer. But part of the reason for the country’s renewed push is to better match the forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that are now circulating — to prevent more infections and transmission when another cold hits. -season appears.

“When this comes out and we get additional coverage for the Omicron options, that’s going to be great,” said Sterling Ranson, a Deltaville physician and president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “The question is in time. I want my patients to have the best possible protection.”

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Complicating the process is that after only two winters with SARS-2, scientists still don’t understand when the virus peaks and how strong seasonal factors are. The virus has been spreading incredibly efficiently this summer, but many experts expect even higher infections this fall and winter, at least in colder parts of the country.

Even with the flu, what month does the virus peak, especially as efforts to mitigate Covid have reversed the normal behavior of other viruses. While the last two flu seasons have been overcome by efforts to slow down Covid, Australia is in the midst of a severe flu season, which is often indicative of what the US season will look like.

“We have a narrow window,” Patsy Stinchfield, a pediatric nurse practitioner and president of the National Infectious Disease Foundation, said of annual flu shots. “We want to make sure we don’t vaccinate too early because then it could be late in the season.”

Stinchfield said people should generally get flu shots around Halloween.

According to Ed Belongia, director of the Marshfield Clinical Research Institute’s Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Population Health, flu vaccines lose about 8 percent each month. But there is also an important balance. Although October is a better time to get a flu shot than September, September is never better – a lesson that should be applied to the Covid campaign as well.

“There’s a potential difference between giving the vaccine too early and losing the opportunity to vaccinate people who never got the vaccine,” Belongia said.

Running the two vaccine campaigns at the same time could further stretch clinics and public health departments, but people could get the Covid booster and the flu shot at the same time.

There’s a well-choreographed system to prepare for the annual flu shots and vaccines before fall. Health officials typically choose which strains can be shot that season at the beginning of the year, giving manufacturers a few months to mass-produce the vaccine. Filling and shipping vials, purchasing syringes, and vaccinating health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities is a big hike every year.

Looks like it’s a sprint again with the updated Covid shots. The Biden administration has said the boosters could be available in September, assuming the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will sign off on them. But it was only at the end of June The FDA said the new enhancers should target the original form of the virus as well as the spike protein of the BA.5 Omicron subvariant that currently dominates in the United States.

“I thought the flu was really difficult,” said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers. “It was not a year like last year. I think the challenges of supply and planning and optimal planning are very difficult. And just when you think you’ve got it figured out, you haven’t. And throwing Covid boosters into the mix makes it even more complicated.

Hannan said there was no indication yet from the federal government about how many new Covid shots there would be or when. He also noted that public health departments are also struggling An unprecedented case of monkeypoxcomplemented by an indirect vaccine delivery process.

While the Biden administration has yet to express its vision for the Covid booster campaign, it will be similar to when the original Covid boosters were authorized last fall, relying more on pharmacies and doctors’ offices and less on mass vaccinations. websites.

And in many ways, the sites are well-practiced for another spin with another Covid shot: they dealt with different bullets from different manufacturers, different booster doses, shots for children and, in the past, additional boosters for the elderly and people with certain health issues. One wrinkle, however, is that the updated footage is only expected to be allowed as a booster, while the main series of footage will still use the original formula.

Tinglong Dai, a health operations expert at Johns Hopkins University, said hospitals and clinics should be able to supply upgraded amplifiers. But he also noted that health officials need to launch an important message campaign. Only about half of those eligible for the first booster received it, and people may wonder why they need a booster shot. It’s like someone with an iPhone 10 debating whether they should really upgrade to a newer model, Dai said.

Dai also said the campaign should ensure people have easy access to Covid and flu vaccines, no matter where they live.

“The logistical aspects are mostly taken care of,” Dye said. “The challenge now is to connect supply and demand to really address the issues.”

With the uncertainty of what a Covid winter might look like – when will the virus peak and to what extent? which option prevails? — Belongia says that once people take boosters, they shouldn’t try to make sure that their protections are in any way possible. Instead, people should get the Covid shot whenever possible.

“Guessing is a futile endeavor right now,” Belongia said. “If it’s available and authorized, the best thing to do is not wait and get it.”

Helen Branswell contributed reporting.

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