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Media Contact: Grace Franklin, Public Health Director, (970) 728-4289, firstname.lastname@example.org
(September 12, 2023) — San Miguel County, Colorado — With cooler weather, the fall and winter seasons usually mean more respiratory illnesses. Predicting this year’s patterns among viruses will remain a challenge as Covid continues to evolve. This summer, new subvariants of the original Covid-19 began spreading across the United States, leading to increases in cases and hospitalizations. The BA.2.86 subvariant, in particular, has a large number of mutations causing increased concern. Scientists are currently studying these variants to determine whether they are more infectious or can cause more severe outcomes and potential impacts headed into the winter. San Miguel County Public Health reminds county residents of best practices for Covid prevention and is providing an update on fall vaccines.
Regardless of the mutation, this is still Covid. Immune systems will still recognize the variant and will still protect a lot of us from severe disease. We also have tools to help protect one another if we are sick:
If you are sick, test for Covid. Public Health has free Covid tests available for the public and tests can be purchased at most grocery stores and pharmacies.
If you test positive for Covid, protocol is largely the same as it has been for the past few years.
This fall there are three vaccines that will be available: flu, Covid, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). There are currently no combined vaccines, which means, if eligible, you might need three shots to protect against the three viruses this fall. Public Health plans to offer all three but do not have all three vaccines available currently. Below is some information to help plan for the fall.
The vaccine covers four strains of seasonal flu (also known as influenza). Selecting vaccine strains is challenging for rapidly changing viruses like flu and Covid, with the vaccine working to match flu strains that recently circulated in Australia. This is a good predictor of the upcoming Northern Hemisphere. This vaccine can reduce severe cases significantly and chances for hospitalization among high-risk populations. Everyone 6 months and older is eligible for a flu vaccine. Public Health will begin offering flu vaccines at the end of September with ongoing clinic dates throughout the fall. Vaccines are available for individuals with and without insurance at no direct cost.
The updated vaccine should be available by late September. The ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) is meeting September 12 to determine who is eligible for a Covid vaccine and why. Covid vaccines are now privatized, meaning clinics are responsible for purchasing the vaccines directly. Insurance will still cover the cost of Covid vaccines and there are programs locally to provide these vaccines for free for individuals without insurance. Public Health is likely to offer only one type of mRNA vaccine due to cost, storage, and logistics. All Covid vaccines on the market are great and have a very narrow difference in benefits. More information and a clearer timeline on availability will be available after the September 12 ACIP meeting.
While we are in a wave now, we expect a larger wave in winter. Getting the newer Covid vaccine this fall, broader immune protection is provided. Getting an updated vaccine formula will be more helpful against currently circulating variants. At this point, it is recommended individuals wait for the new formula unless it’s their first vaccine or have concerns with the risk for waiting (ex. extensive travel plans or immunocompromised).
The FDA recently approved an RSV vaccine for people ages 60 and older. Data about the vaccine states that it protects against severe illness with 82-86% efficacy. CDC’s official recommendation for RSV vaccines is that older adults “may” get the vaccine rather than “should,” which changes what insurances cover this vaccine cost.
Currently, Medicaid and Medicare cover the RSV vaccine, but some private health insurance plans do not. Public Health plans to offer the RSV vaccine this fall as well but are working to determine roll out and costs to patients. More information will be provided upon its availability. For those that are eligible and want the vaccine sooner, it is recommended to receive the vaccine from regional pharmacies that have the vaccine on hand already.
“While we are waiting on some key pieces of information, we are excited to make these vaccines available in the fall,” said Grace Franklin, Public Health Director. “There will plenty of opportunities to get vaccinated with clinic schedules to be announced. We look forward to keeping county residents and visitors as healthy as possible in the coming winter months.”
More info will be posted here soon.