The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that people 65 years and older get a high-dose flu vaccine this season. Individuals can receive flu and COVID-19 vaccines in the same visit but are encouraged to check with the provider first to ensure there is available inventory. Both the COVID-19 and flu vaccines are safe and effective, and have been shown to reduce the risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and death.
“We encourage everyone to get a flu shot to protect themselves and their loved ones against flu – especially those who are considered high-risk for serious complications,” said Paula Nickelson, acting director of DHSS. “It is important that Missourians visit a flu clinic or their primary health care provider soon as it can take two weeks for the vaccine to begin working.”
On Oct. 14, DHSS began its statewide surveillance reporting for the 2022-2023 flu season. Weekly data reports are published each Friday and include the number of diagnosed influenza cases, influenza-like illness visits to the ER, and flu-related hospitalizations across Missouri. From October 2-8, 80 laboratory-confirmed flu cases were reported in Missouri (as compared to 28 cases during the same time period in 2021). Currently, the highest rate of infections is among the youngest children aged 0-4.
“It is important for parents to know that while their young children may have a lower risk of severe illness from COVID-19, young children are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications,” said Nickelson.
In addition to young children, high-risk individuals also include: Adults 65 years and older, pregnant individuals, children with underlying medical conditions, and individuals with these conditions: asthma, heart disease or stroke, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and/or cancer.
The flu can be very serious. Each year, hundreds of thousands of individuals are hospitalized, while thousands die from flu-related illnesses. The most common symptoms of flu are fever, cough and sore throat. Other symptoms include body aches, headaches, chills, runny nose and fatigue. Not everyone will experience the same symptoms, and it is important to stay home if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Seek medical assistance if you have trouble breathing, or if your symptoms worsen. Those who are in a high-risk group and experience flu-like symptoms should contact their primary health care provider.
“Now is also a great time to get up-to-date on your COVID-19 shots especially since they can be taken care of in the same visit,” said Nickelson.
Bivalent vaccines just became available for adults last month, and the reformatted dose became available for those as young as age 5 last week. The bivalent boosters both target two versions of SARS-CoV-2, the ancestral virus that caused COVID-19 – the original strain of the virus and two of the Omicron subvariants (BA.4 and BA.5), which are currently the most widespread variants globally.
According to a recent Commonwealth Fund study, it was estimated that “a fall booster vaccination campaign reaching coverage similar to the 2020-2021 influenza vaccination (scenario 1) would prevent more than 75,000 deaths and more than 745,000 hospitalizations and generate savings of $44 billion associated with direct medical costs by the end of March 2023, compared to the baseline. An even more successful campaign (scenario 2) would prevent approximately 90,000 deaths, more than 936,000 hospitalizations, and avert $56 billion in direct medical costs over the course of the next six months, compared with the baseline scenario.”
The report continues, “If vaccination continued at its current pace through the end of March 2023, a potential winter surge in COVID-19 infections could result in a peak of around 16,000 hospitalizations and 1,200 deaths per day by March 2023. Under both scenarios modeled, the study showed an aggressive fall booster vaccination campaign could prevent COVID-19 deaths from exceeding 400 per day.”