Preventing a 'tripledemic' begins with us
11/2/2023 by Robert Jacobson, M.D., and Julie Gebel, R.N.
Last year, we struggled across Southeast Minnesota with what pundits, or experts in the field, called a tripledemic, or a collision of three viruses. We were hit hard with influenza — or flu — and two other highly infectious illnesses. One is called respiratory syncytial virus or RSV. It hits babies and older adults hard. The other was a spike in COVID-19 infections.
This fall we have new tools to prevent another tripledemic. We have a seasonal influenza vaccine designed for this year's circulating virus. By now, all should have scheduled an appointment or received a dose. The one exception is young babies. They need to wait until later in the season when they turn 6 months of age and can get their 2-dose series.
We have a new COVID-19 vaccine, and all of us need to receive at least one dose. This one is also designed for the new virus strains and not the old ones. The old ones are long gone. Children less than five years of age may need more than one dose. By now, most of us have had a COVID infection. The vaccine recommendations assume that. The vaccination is to prevent complications, and it works.
Primary care patients, including children 6 months and older, can obtain COVID-19 and influenza vaccines during scheduled primary care visits or at designated Primary Care Vaccination Clinic sites in Rochester, Kasson and Mayo Clinic Health System in Southeast Minnesota. You can self-schedule a vaccination appointment through the patient portal or by calling your primary care clinic.
In an infant's first RSV season (Nov. 1 through Mar. 31), we also have an RSV immunization for those less than 8 months of age as of Nov. 1. This is not a vaccine. It provides antibody protection with one shot for the entire season. Babies just born should get the shot in the first week of life. Older babies 9 through 19 months of age might need a dose if they are at high risk for serious outcomes from RSV infection during the RSV season. Ask your clinician about the infant RSV immunization
Finally, we have an option for adults 60 years and older to get an RSV vaccine. This is a one-time shot, and it is an active vaccine. Those getting a dose are protected for at least 2 years. It is not for all adults 60 years and older, but just those who are at higher risk for a severe infection. Discuss this with your healthcare clinician to determine if this vaccine is right for you.
There may be out-of-pocket expenses associated with the adult RSV vaccine, so check with your insurance company to verify coverage. Patients on Medicare should receive the RSV vaccine at a pharmacy, not through a primary care visit, to avoid additional costs.
Robert M. Jacobson, M.D., is a physician in Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota, and the medical director of the Primary Care in Southeast Minnesota Immunization Program.
Julie Gebel, R.N., is a registered nurse and program coordinator for the Primary Care in Southeast Minnesota Immunization Program.