HomeHealthThree Shots for Fall: What You Need to Know

Three Shots for Fall: What You Need to Know

Most Americans have already received flu and Covid vaccines, but this year there are new shots available to protect older adults and infants from respiratory syncytial virus (R.S.V.). Experts hope that widespread adoption of these immunizations will prevent another wave of respiratory illnesses, similar to what was seen last winter. Fortunately, for those with insurance, all of these vaccines should be available for free.

Dr. Ofer Levy, director of the precision vaccines program at Boston Children’s Hospital and an adviser to the FDA, called this situation an “embarrassment of riches.” But which vaccines should individuals seek out? According to experts, everyone should at least receive the flu and Covid shots this fall.

The annual flu vaccine is recommended for anyone aged 6 months and older, but it is particularly important for adults over 65, children under 5, and those with weak immune systems. Updated Covid shots from Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax are expected this fall to target the Omicron variant. However, the full recommendations will only be available once the FDA authorizes the shots and the CDC reviews new data.

Federal health officials are now emphasizing the idea of a single annual immunization with the latest version of the Covid vaccine, instead of talking about primary series and boosters. Dr. Camille Kotton, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and an adviser to the CDC, compared it to using a seatbelt in a car—it’s a good idea to keep using it.

R.S.V. is increasingly recognized as a major respiratory threat, especially for older adults, immunocompromised individuals, and young children. Therefore, a new shot called Beyfortus, a monoclonal antibody, has been recommended by the CDC to protect infants under 8 months old and infants aged 8 months to 19 months who are at risk for severe illness. Two R.S.V. vaccines, Abrysvo and Arexvy, are not yet approved for Americans under 60. The CDC now recommends that individuals aged 60 and older get immunized after consulting with their doctors. Regulators are also considering the use of Abrysvo in pregnant women to protect infants from the virus.

While it’s true that risks posed by any of these viruses increase with age, it’s important to note that “65 is not a magical cutoff point,” according to Dr. Chu. Even those without pre-existing conditions can become seriously ill with all three of these viruses.

As for timing, since it’s uncertain when these viruses will re-emerge, it’s recommended to get the shots early enough in the fall to build immunity. Most people will prefer to receive the flu and Covid shots simultaneously, while older adults in poor health should get all three shots at once. The ideal time to get vaccinated is likely September or October.

In addition to the flu and Covid shots, adults aged 50 and older should consider the shingles vaccine if they haven’t already, and those 65 and older should sign up for the pneumococcal vaccine, but these vaccines can be scheduled for a different time.

Is it safe to receive these vaccines at once? Although the flu and Covid shots were often given together last year without issues, there is limited information on the interactions between the R.S.V. vaccine and the other two vaccines. The Department of Health and Human Services stated that there are no safety concerns regarding administering the influenza and Covid-19 vaccines together. The FDA and CDC continuously monitor vaccine safety and will assess any potential safety signals.

Research suggests that administering the R.S.V. and flu vaccines together may produce lower levels of antibodies compared to when they are given separately. However, experts believe those levels are still sufficient to protect against the viruses. There is also limited data on the safety of the two R.S.V. vaccines, as only six cases of neurological problems were recorded in clinical trials, which were not enough to determine if they were caused by the vaccines. Further clarity will come from surveillance during large-scale vaccine administration.

The CDC is expected to release recommendations on administering the vaccines together in the coming weeks.