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California health officials urge flu and COVID vaccinations

California health officials urge flu and COVID vaccinations
The California Department of Public Health urges Californians to get vaccinated against a triple threat virus, with rates of COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) expected to increase in late fall.

By Thomas Hughes. Bay City News.

The California Department of Public Health urges Californians to be vaccinated against a triple virus threat that is expected to increase in the coming months.

Rates of COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are expected to increase in the late fall and winter months as more people gather indoors and fewer people get vaccinated against COVID-19.

But a shortage of RSV antibody doses this season has prompted federal and state health officials to change their guidelines to include more vaccines for pregnant women during certain periods of their gestation.

COVID-19 vaccination rates are much lower compared to the past two years. Previously, the vaccines were free to patients and the cost was paid by the federal government, but now they are on the commercial market. Those who do not have health insurance can still access free vaccines through a state program called My Turn, which can be accessed at myturn.ca.gov.  

Dr. Tomás Aragón, the state's public health officer, said during a virtual news conference Thursday that vaccination rates have been lower among Californians with lower incomes and among certain racial and ethnic groups.

About 4.6 percent of the state's population is up to date with the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 75 percent of the state that was fully vaccinated at the height of the pandemic. White Californians are currently vaccinated at a rate of 6.7 percent, while Black Californians are at a rate of 2.7 percent and Latinos are at a rate of 1.5 percent.

COVID-19 infections have declined in the state after a brief spike in the summer. Statewide, there were 610,381 people recently hospitalized with coronavirus between August 20 and October 14, an average of 248 per day. The state recorded more than 104,000 COVID-19 deaths from Aug. 1 to Sept. 25, an average of 19 per day, according to the state's COVID-19 tracker.

Aragón recommended that anyone over 6 months old get vaccinated against COVID and the flu.

Current COVID-19 vaccines only require one dose, rather than needing a booster, with the exception of the Novavax vaccine, which received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this month.

There is revised guidance on the flu vaccine for people with egg allergies who were previously warned against the vaccine. Now, people with an egg allergy are encouraged to get vaccinated like everyone else, unless they have had an adverse reaction in the past, Aragon said.

More than 4,600 Californians died from the flu in 2021, the last full year for which the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data.

“October is a perfect time to get the flu vaccine so you have enough time to build immunity so that when the flu spikes, you will be protected,” Aragon said.

Protection against RSV can come in the form of a vaccine for older adults and pregnant women, and antibody immunization for infants and children. There is currently a shortage of a newly developed antibody treatment by Sanofi and AstraZeneca, Beyfortus (nirsevimab-alip), across the country, prompting the CDC to issue a health advisory on Monday recommending rationing the supply.

The state public health department is encouraging women who are between 32 and 36 weeks pregnant to receive the vaccine as a way to pass on immunity to the fetus that lasts about six months after birth.

Newborns and young children between birth and 19 months are at highest risk for severe RSV, along with adults over 65 years of age.

Aragón recommended wearing masks, washing hands and staying home when sick as prevention methods.

You can find more information about the differences and availability of the vaccines at vaccines.org.

 

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