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Monday, December 4, 2023

KEEP IN MIND: COVID, flu and RSV vaccinations before the holidays

Health care leaders are encouraging people to receive the latest vaccinations and be vigilant of seasonal trends before the holidays

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With the holidays right around the corner, Indiana health care professionals want people to be mindful of flu season.

Along with flu, they want people to keep COVID-19 and other infections like RSV in mind when visiting loved ones for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

RELATED: Omicron comes just in time to (maybe) ruin Christmas plans

“We have seen a small uptick in especially COVID cases. Flu is still a little bit too early to tell. Then, there’s been a lot of discussion around RSV, especially as new vaccinations have come out,” said Dr. Travis Schamber, regional medical director of Oak Street Health.

Oak Street Health services many patients over the age of 65 in Indiana and Kentucky; 80% of which have chronic diseases.

Schamber emphasized that COVID and the flu are here to stay.

Many regard the pandemic as over because it is no longer declared a world health crisis. The virus is still affecting Hoosiers.

He said they are still seeing Black communities more affected by COVID.

Vaccinations: The symptoms for COVID have changed

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we didn’t have vaccines. So, we saw a lot of severe symptoms. Now, we’ve seen those symptoms change. They became much milder for many people,” said Schamber.

“I don’t want to downplay that people are still getting hospitalized and people are still dying from COVID.”

During the pandemic, patients displayed classical symptoms of nasty coughs, high fever and loss of taste and smell.

Now, COVID symptoms look more like a typical upper respiratory infection with nasal congestion and maybe a mild cough.

He encourages Hoosiers to be up to date on their vaccinations before visiting family for the holidays.

RSV and flu season is right around the corner

Dr. Roddrea Montgomery, family medicine physician with Community Health Network, agrees on the importance of vaccinating before traveling or visiting family.

“Now would be the time to do it, especially for COVID. Our numbers are not as severe as they have been in the past, but they are rising, and I imagine they’ll continue to rise,” said Montgomery.

“Then with influenza and RSV, we’re not quite in the RSV season yet, but around Christmas time we can expect a lot of that. We’ll get a lot of common cold RSV, bronchiolitis for both very young children and our elderly population.”

She reminds people to wash their hands. Test for COVID and flu if you’re feeling sick, and wear a mask when traveling and going out.

Although COVID is still a concern, Dr. Amy Beth Kressel, medical director for antimicrobial stewardship and infection prevention for Eskenazi Health, said so far both COVID and influenza are at lower levels this year.

An update on hospitalizations

“In Marion County, hospitalizations are low for COVID. ED [emergency department] visits are low and dropping. It’s definitely a milder season for both COVID and influenza, but things change. So, it’s hard to know what will happen as the season progresses,” said Kressel.

She said COVID hospitalizations are still at higher rates for people aged 70 and above, and it is important to remember to take measures to combat COVID that health professionals have been recommending over the last three years.

“Strategically wear masks. If you are more vulnerable because you’re immunocompromised, or you’re older, or if you live with people who are vulnerable, you should still be wearing masks in public. You should be wearing masks in more crowded situations like airplanes when traveling.”

Be up-to-date on vaccinations

She said not a lot of people have received the newer booster – Novavax, a non-MRNA vaccine – that is available in Indiana.

The vaccine is widely available at Indianapolis COSTCOs and CVSs.

“I’ve always gotten the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines. I have no personal concerns about the MRNA vaccines. If people are concerned about fetal cell use or if people just feel really tired and have flu-like symptoms after the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, Novavax might be a good option for them,” said Kressel.

She also said pregnant women can get an RSV vaccine between weeks 32 and 38 of their pregnancy that will protect their infants.

Dr. John Christenson, associate medical director of Infection Prevention at Riley Hospital for Children, wants people to plan ahead for the holidays.

RSV concerns for infants and the elderly

“We are seeing a steady increase in RSV, which is a viral infection that affects predominately young infants but also older adults. We’re starting to see influenza A and B and a steady number of patients with COVID,” said Christenson.

He said Riley currently has six children admitted to the hospital with COVID.

With these three respiratory conditions that have preventable measures, preparing ahead for the holidays is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones.

“For influenza, infants starting at six months can receive their flu shot. It’s the same with COVID. For RSV know that there are vaccines for adults over 60 years of age, but there is one vaccine for pregnant women as well that they can get,” said Christenson.

Contact staff writer Jade Jackson at (317) 762-7853 or by email JadeJ@IndyRecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @IAMJADEJACKSON. 

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