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What you need to know this vaccination season

Stanford Medicine infectious disease expert Anne Liu provides guidance on the RSV, flu and new COVID-19 vaccines this fall.

As October nears, we're used to hearing reminders about getting the latest flu shot. But this year, there are two more vaccines in the mix: the latest version of the vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and the new vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

While federal agencies are still hashing out specifics on some of the recommendations, Stanford Medicine's Anne Liu, MD, a clinical associate professor of infectious diseases, offers guidelines for adults on receiving this year's shots. 

Who should receive the flu and COVID-19 vaccines?

Like it does every year, this fall's flu shot targets the strains scientists have calculated are the most likely to circulate throughout the United States this coming winter. Everyone over the age of 6 months -- unless their physician has explicitly recommended against it -- should receive a flu shot every fall. 

Anyone who has not been infected or boosted in the last several months should get the COVID-19 vaccine. It's particularly critical for people who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or of developing complications from it: people working in crowded settings and not wearing masks; those over the age of 50; those who have diabetes; those with high blood pressure or other cardiovascular disorders; those who are immunocompromised, which includes patients taking steroids; those with lung and liver diseases; those who are pregnant; and those who are overweight or obese. That last group encompasses roughly 70% of adults in the U.S. 

Does the latest COVID-19 vaccine protect against the new Eris strain?

Eris, a new variant of Omicron, appeared too late for vaccine manufacturers to target it specifically. The new vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 virus targets another variant of Omicron.

Recent data suggests that the antibodies generated by the new COVID-19 booster should protect against Eris. Antibodies that we produce in response to a vaccine are multifaceted -- they're not one-trick ponies. A mutation may make some of the antibodies, which are produced by the vaccine to protect the body, less effective, but they still provide protection. 

Who should receive the RSV vaccine?

The vaccine has been approved and is available to all adults 60 years and older, though it's recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people check with their doctors before they receive the vaccine, as there are possible side effects, such as fatigue, muscle aches and headaches.  

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the vaccine for pregnant women, who should be vaccinated ideally at 32 to 36 weeks of pregnancy. The vaccine provides infants with several months' protection after birth. However, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has not made a recommendation on how the RSV vaccine should be used by that group, so it may not be available yet to those who are pregnant.

Will we need to get vaccinated for COVID-19 every year?  

Most likely it'll become an annual ritual, like the flu shot. We need to get shots annually - or more frequently -- for two reasons: The vaccines crank up our antibody levels, and they target the latest strains of the virus. 

Can you get the vaccines at the same time? When is the ideal time to get them?

Studies have shown that receiving the flu and COVID-19 vaccine together does not decrease either shot's effectiveness. There have not been any studies about combining the RSV  and COVID-19 vaccines, but some studies suggest possibly lower antibody levels when RSV and flu vaccines were received together, so patients should receive RSV separately.  

You want to get vaccinated about two to six weeks before you start spending much of your time indoors because of cold weather. Usually, that's October. But the best time to get vaccinated is when it works for you! What's most important is that you receive your shots.

Photo by Alernon77

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