As cases of COVID-19, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) persist across the U.S., it is important to take precautions to protect yourself from these respiratory illnesses, says Dr. Tina Z. Wang, who specializes in infectious diseases and hospital epidemiology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. The single best way to protect yourself from the flu and COVID-19? Get vaccinated, says Dr. Wang. “It will protect not only yourself but also helps to prevent transmission to others.”
With new COVID-19 vaccines available, the updated shots are expected to better target new variants, according to experts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended the updated vaccines, made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna for anyone 6 months and older, and Novavax for anyone 12 and older.
Dr. Keith Roach, a general internist and an associate attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, says it’s safe to get the vaccines at the same time. “We already give people multiple vaccines at the same time. Our bodies can certainly handle all of the antigens in these vaccines without any trouble.”
It’s especially important for pregnant women to protect themselves from the flu and COVID-19 with vaccines. Not only is the flu shot effective and safe for the baby, says Dr. Laura Riley, obstetrician and gynecologist-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, but it also protects babies who are born during flu season, which runs from October through April. Flu vaccinations given to pregnant women reduce the risk of hospitalization from influenza by about 70% for infants younger than 6 months old. As for COVID-19: “We do have lots of epidemiologic data which suggests that pregnancy plus COVID-19 is not a good mix,” says Dr. Riley. “Pregnant women have had more admissions to the ICU, more mechanical ventilation, and more deaths, although the absolute number is low. The flip side is you’ve got a vaccine that works to prevent severe illness.”
As for RSV, a new vaccine for pregnant people is now available to protect their babies from the common respiratory virus that can cause serious illness in infants and young children. This single-shot RSV vaccine, called Abrysvo, is the first maternal vaccine to be given during pregnancy to protect newborns from RSV. “I am very excited about this new vaccine,” says Dr. Riley. “It has proven to be safe and effective, and I’m encouraging all of my eligible patients to get the vaccine during RSV season.”
The preventive measures for COVID-19 also apply for the flu and RSV: avoiding large crowds and gatherings, wearing a mask, social distancing, frequent handwashing, and staying at home when you feel sick. “A lot of people may be coughing and sneezing, so the likelihood of transmission is much higher when you’re having active symptoms,” says Dr. Ting Ting Wong, an attending physician and infectious disease specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital.