Health officials stress importance of COVID-19 and flu vaccine ahead of flu season

Kamari Esquerra

Health officials are stressing the importance of being vaccinated against both COVID-19 and the flu, ahead of the upcoming season.

The federal government plans to begin offering additional shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, commonly known as a booster, as early as next month.

Here in Riverside County, fully vaccinated people with immunocompromised health issues can get a booster starting on Wednesday, Aug. 18.

“The way it works is we recommend they still get their first two doses of the mRNA vaccine, Moderna or Pfizer, and then 28 days after their second dose, is when they would get that additional dose,” said Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Shunling Tsang.

Health officials said the COVID-19 vaccines continue to be effective in reducing the risk of severe disease from COVID-19. 

“For those of us who have healthy immune systems, it is working really well,” said Dr. Tsang. 

The booster is needed to provide additional protection against the virus for individuals with weakened immune systems. 

“For those who are immunocompromised, we recommend that they get the full three doses meaning the first two that have been recommended and now the third one that recently came out as a recommendation from the CDC,” said Dr. Tsang. 

The Biden Administration said people will be able to get the booster shot 8 months after receiving the second dose of the vaccine, with the first round of shots likely going to nursing home residents, healthcare workers, and emergency workers, who were among the first group of people to receive the vaccine last winter.

Even with this additional shot, health officials still face the challenge of getting people to get their first dose of the vaccine.

“What we’re encouraging everyone to do is number 1 go and get vaccinated to protect yourself and your loved ones,” said Dr. Tsang.

“All of the world’s most vulnerable and those who are most at risk… need to receive their first and second doses before large proportions of the population or all of the population in some countries receive that third dose,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

With flu season just around the corner, health officials say it is more important now, and even safe, to get both the COVID-19 and flu vaccines.

“It’s very important actually to get both vaccinations completed,” said Dr. Tsang. “Getting vaccinated as soon as possible before the flu season kicks in will help protect against COVID, and then as flu season comes in, getting the flu vaccine will also protect from the flu and hopefully overall we will have a better winter.”

Health officials say we can protect both ourselves and those around us from COVID-19 and the flu. 

“You have two weapons here,” said Dr. Paul Offit Director of the Vaccine Education Center for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “One is vaccines, the other is masking.”

“The vaccine is very effective against all the variants of COVID-19 and the serious complications from COVID-19,” said Dr. Tsang. “Getting vaccinated is the most surefire way to protect yourself against the serious outcomes of COVID-19.”

The booster plan is still subject to approval from the FDA and CDC’s Vaccine Advisory Committee, but officials say they are prepared to begin the rollout of booster shots starting the week of Sept. 20. 

 

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