Monday, September 5, 2022

Flu & COVID-19 vaccines recommended amidst concerning seasonal trends

 

Increasing COVID cases among school-aged children cause for concern entering flu season 

Austin Public Health (APH) recommends families prioritize getting up to date with their vaccines this fall, including seasonal flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines. 

Health professionals look to the southern hemisphere to predict the severity of flu season. In Australia this year, children younger than 5 years to teens had the highest number of reported cases. 

"Now is not the time to let our guard down. Everyone, especially children and seniors, need flu protection," said Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes. "This time last year we were fighting the COVID-19 delta variant, and we protected our most vulnerable from COVID-19 and flu with a combination of masking and vaccine. Let’s do it again." 

Babies and young children have been eligible for COVID-19 vaccines since late June. More data:  

  • 44 pediatric hospitalizations (7 ICU admissions, 1 on a breathing machine) in the last month 
  • Fewer than 2,500 children 6 months to 4 years are fully vaccinated in Travis County.  

  • Half of children admitted to hospitals for treatment were unvaccinated and do NOT have any underlying medical condition.  

  • Case numbers at our area schools are rising and may significantly increase if illness spreads from sick students to their families. 

The first year of the pandemic saw historically low levels of influenza circulation. Infections increased during the 2021-22 season, although flu-related deaths and hospitalizations remained low. Preventive measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing and robust hygiene practices protected our communities against more than COVID-19. 

Seasonal flu vaccines are recommended for everyone 6 months and older. Ideally flu shots should be administered during September and October, although they can still help prevent serious illness from influenza when administered beyond this time period. Flu most commonly peaks in February and significant activity can continue into May. 

Flu shots can be administered at the same time as COVID-19 vaccines. The CDC just authorized new COVID-19 booster doses and APH has ordered supply. Expect more details on those doses soon. 

The seasonal flu vaccine protects against influenza viruses that research suggests may be more common during the upcoming season. Last season Influenza A was the most common circulating strain in Travis County. Some people who get flu shots may still get sick, but studies show the overall severity of illness is likely reduced by vaccinations. 

"As a community, we realize now more than ever, how health impacts our quality of life – our ability to work, play, and spend time with loved ones. Getting your flu shots is an easy way to keep your family safe and on track," said Austin Public Health Director Adrienne Sturrup. "We don’t have to get sidelined by another virus, especially one we’ve been routinely vaccinating against for decades." 

The composition of flu vaccines varies each season because there are many different flu viruses. The recommendations for the 2022-2023 season include two updates compared with last season’s recommended vaccines: the influenza A(H3N2) and the influenza B(Victoria lineage) vaccine virus components. 

Vaccine Providers  

Visit Vaccines.gov (Vacunas.gov in Spanish) to find flu and COVID-19 vaccine providers near you. 

Free COVID-19 tests   

The federal government suspended its free mail-order test kit program to maintain the national stockpile Sept. 2, 2022. Free at-home test kits and PCR testing are still available at APH’s Metz Elementary testing site (84 Robert T. Martinez Jr. St., Austin, TX 78702). 

Free masks (N-95 respirators)   

Use the CDC’s mask-locator tool to find pharmacies near you that provide free masks (N95 respirators). It does not show current inventories, so check with the location for availability. 

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