As temperatures drop and as we spend more time indoors, respiratory illnesses are starting to rise in California, including COVID-19, flu and RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus). This paired with increased holiday travel is the perfect breeding ground for the spread of respiratory illnesses. Should I get the shot now or later?
I encourage everyone to get their COVID-19 booster and flu shots as soon as possible. It takes about two weeks for the vaccines to be effective, so getting your shots by early November will protect you during peak virus season. Flu is already showing signs of ramping up earlier than in prior years in the state.
Can I get both a COVID-19 booster and a flu shot at the same time?
You can get both shots at the same time. I even got them in the same arm and felt very minimal side effects. It’s also fairly easy to get an appointment at your local pharmacy or you can contact your primary care doctor to get the shots. Visit Blue Shield of California’s COVID-19 Learning Center for more information.
Will we have a COVID-19 surge this fall/winter?
COVID-19 cases spiked between November and February in 2020 and 2021, so it is likely that we’ll see a spike again this year. It’s impossible to know how severe or widespread it will be, but we can control how we prepare. Vaccines are the best way to curtail a serious illness during a surge.
How many people have gotten the most recent COVID-19 booster and what impact will that have?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that less than 20 million doses of the new bivalent vaccine have been administered. This vaccine protects against both the original virus that causes COVID-19 and the Omicron variant BA.4 and BA.5. That means that less than 9 percent of people who have completed the primary vaccine series have gotten the new booster. Not getting the booster can have an impact on lives and the healthcare system. A recent study by The Commonwealth Fund found that if 80 percent of eligible people received their booster by Dec. 31, 2022, we could:
- Save nearly 90,000 lives
- Avert over 900,000 hospitalizations
- Avert 25 million infections
- Save $56 billion in healthcare costs
What booster shot should I get?
The bivalent boosters designed by both Pfizer (aged five and older) and Moderna (aged six and older) to address the most prominent Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 are showing to be effective against the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently allowed people ages 18 years and older the option to receive a Novavax monovalent booster if they have completed primary series vaccination but have not previously received a COVID-19 booster—and if they cannot or will not receive mRNA vaccines.
Should I be worried about new variants?
The COVID-19 virus will continue to evolve as it has from the beginning. Medical officials continue to monitor these variants. We don’t know if these variants will overtake the current prevalent strain, but it is possible. Following the guidance above is the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your communities.
What else can I do to stay safe?
Wear a mask if local case counts start to climb, mask in crowded spaces, like airports and airplanes, or in spaces with poor ventilation.
Dr. Susan Fleischman is chief medical officer at Blue Shield of California.