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The newest COVID booster is one vaccine among several this viral season

A pharmacist wearing a blue surgical mask and classes looks at a vial of vaccine in his hand.
OSF HealthCare
McLean County Health Department
Ryan Wolf, a pharmacy operations manager, prepares a COVID-19 vaccine in 2021. The FDA and CDC recently approved a new booster shot for COVID-19.

With federal agencies signing off on an updated COVID-19 booster, an infectious disease specialist says there are three different vaccinations available for viruses ahead of this year's cold-and-flu season — more preventative tools than were available at this time last year.

Advisers to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention voted 13-1 this week to recommend use of an updated COVID-19 booster shot from manufacturers Pfizer or Moderna for anyone six months or older.

"What you do now is going to determine what kind of happens over the coming months, meaning that it takes time for the protection to build up in your body," said Dr. Douglas Kasper, an infectious disease specialist with OSF HealthCare. "It's a new sequence we are asking people to consider."

The thought is to build immunity in the body ahead of the viral illness season peak, expected to happen later this year. Some news headlines have called the three circulating viruses of COVID-19, RSV and the flu a harbinger of a "tripledemic."

Dr. Douglas Kasper is an infectious disease specialist with OSF Healthcare
OSF HealthCare
Dr. Douglas Kasper is an infectious disease specialist with OSF HealthCare.

"I don't use that word because it's a shock word," Kasper said. "We are not approaching things like we were before: These decisions are much more individual — we're not approaching anything with these broad strokes where you have to be vaccinated."

The COVID new vaccines, manufactured by both Pfizer and Moderna, target a much more recent variant of the omicron strain called XBB.1.5 that was selected by the FDA in June for use in formulating new vaccines. The idea, akin to how flu vaccines are made, is to match a seasonal vaccine to the virus that is infecting people.

In addition to the latest version of the flu shot and an updated COVID booster, Kasper pointed to another shot available for some: a vaccine for RSV, a respiratory virus that can be especially dangerous for young children and older adults.

The virus is the leading cause of hospitalizations in U.S. babies, landing between 60 to 80,000 in the hospital each year.

The vaccine is available for infants and adults over the age of 60, currently.

"That vaccine will likely be extended to pregnant women in their third trimester very soon... because women that are in their third trimester now are going to give birth in the next month or two — and those babies are going to be going through an RSV season," he said.

He added that vaccines for RSV, COVID-19 and the flu will be "widely available through commercial outlets"; the COVID shots will be covered by insurance or government programs and the flu vaccine will be low-cost or, through some outlets, free.

For adults, COVID shot and a flu shot may be administered in the same day; experts who spoke to NPR recommend adults who are eligible for the RSV vaccine get that shot on a day separate from any others. For children, the CDC recommends talking to a pediatrician about scheduling the COVID and flu vaccines and RSV preventive treatment.

But what there will not be this season, Kasper added, is a push from governing bodies to bring back universal masking.

"The Illinois Department of Public Health and the CDC have stated they do not anticipate any sort of masking mandate to return this season," he said.

"However, I do see more people choosing to wear a mask on their own decision, and I hope we've reached a point where masking is an individual decision and people are respected for what their relative risk may be."

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Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.
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