This time of year, there’s one thing that physicians around the community can count on — respiratory virus season.
This year, however, new vaccines and treatments — including what’s being called a game-changing antibody — will play a key role in how much illness we see this fall and winter.
It’s common for respiratory viruses to start spreading this time of year, says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw.
“The reason there’s so much illness in the fall and winter is viruses travel the globe seasonally. We always see an increase in cases, but also some of that has to do with that we’re all going inside,” she says. “We’re all spending a lot of time indoors close to each other.”
The good news, Dr. Bradshaw says, is that there are vaccines available to help protect children and adults from three of the most threatening respiratory illnesses.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus
Let’s start with the new RSV vaccine, called Beyfortus. Granted FDA approval in July of this year, the vaccine is a monoclonal antibody, or protein, that mimics the immune system’s ability to fight off respiratory syncytial virus — the leading cause of hospitalization in the first year of life.
“Your child is 16 times more likely to be hospitalized because of RSV than influenza,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “The RSV shot is meant for your baby 8 months and younger. The goal is to get that in the fall, October-November, or soon after your baby is born if you have a winter baby.”
Also recommended this year is an updated COVID vaccine for all individuals 6 months and older.
The reformulated vaccine can better help fight off the latest set of subvariants of the COVID virus circulating in the U.S.
The FDA has shifted from calling the newest vaccinations booster shots. Just as people are encouraged to get their “annual flu shot” as opposed to a “flu booster,” COVID will be treated with an annual vaccination. Calling it an updated COVID vaccine also reflects that we’re not just boosting existing immunity from previous vaccination. Instead, the vaccine builds a new immune response to variants that are currently circulating.
“We have to realize COVID is going to be with us and each year new mutations are going to require an updated vaccine, much like influenza,” Dr. Bradshaw says.
Parents are strongly encouraged to immunize themselves and their children 6 months and older against the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people vaccinated against the flu last season were about 40-70% less likely to be hospitalized because of the virus or related complications.
“We now have tools to fight these things, better than we’ve ever had,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “Please go see your doctor and talk about COVID shots, flu shots and RSV shots.”