Covid is not wreaking as much havoc as we saw 2-3 years ago, but as new variants appear, we continue to see waves of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths across our county and across the U.S. It is likely that we will see increases in covid, influenza, and RSV in late fall and into the winter. All three of these infections are mostly preventable with vaccination.
Regardless of your risk of severe illness, there are two reasons to consider staying up to date with the new covid vaccines that have been recommended by infectious disease physicians across America.
1) It is clear that children and adults are at risk of long covid, even if their initial illness is mild. Long covid includes persisting (months or years) symptoms such as severe fatigue and clouded thinking, and increased risks of new onset diabetes and other serious disease processes. Numerous scientific studies have shown that staying current on vaccination decreases the risk of both infection and long covid.
2) The more people in our community who are vaccinated, the lower the rates of community transmission. In turn, those most at risk of hospitalization and death are less likely to be exposed to and contract covid. We all understand what a burden it is on our local emergency room and hospital when waves of infections hit Calvert. None of us wants to see general hospital wards and the intensive care unit closed to new admissions because of preventable illnesses. We're all a car crash or infected appendix away from a hospital admission. Regardless of our individual health status, it is in everyone's interest to have local hospital resources available when we need them.
The current covid vaccine is not a booster. Like annual flu vaccines, this is a new formulation to best match the covid strains currently circulating. We don't refer to each fall's flu shot as a "booster". The current vaccine is based on the XBB.1.5 variant which is markedly different in terms of what our immune systems recognize than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. The immunity people have generated from previous vaccines and/or previous infections provide some degree of protection, but the current transmission rates and increasing hospitalizations provide evidence that this is not sufficient to keep many people healthy.
During clinical testing, the newly formulated covid vaccines produced antibody levels 5-6 times higher against the currently circulating viruses than the previous bivalent vaccines. The CDC projects that if vaccines are offered to everyone and not just seniors, 100,000 additional hospitalizations will be prevented this coming fall and winter across the U.S.
Over the last 2 months, covid hospitalizations having been gradually rising, as can be seen in the graph below. We have seen an increase in covid-related hospitalizations for Calvert residents (4-5 people per week) since Labor Day. If trends hold, there will be further increases in serious covid illnesses as we head into late fall and winter.
Per the experts at the CDC and Infectious Disease Society of America (the national organization of infectious disease physicians), if someone received a bivalent vaccine over the summer or had a recent covid infection, they should wait 3-4 months before getting the updated vaccine. If your personal healthcare provider recommends something different, there may be good reasons for this based on your specific medical condition.
An important note for parents, over 100,000 adolescents received covid vaccines during this past year. None of them developed myocarditis. This condition, which is an inflammation of the heart muscle, was seen in adolescent males with the original two-dose series vaccinations. The national experts think the lack of myocarditis over this past year is because only a single dose was needed for last year’s booster. The current vaccine also only requires one dose for everyone age 5 and older. For children under age 5, if they were previously vaccinated, they also only need one dose this year. Children under 5 who have never received a covid vaccine are still recommended to get an initial series (2 doses of Moderna vaccine or 3 doses of Pfizer vaccine), but myocarditis has never been identified in this younger age group.
For those who would like to have some covid tests available at home, you can now order up to 4 test kits through the federal government website- https://www.covid.gov/tests. There is no charge for the test kits.
Finally, covid vaccines are no longer “free”, however, everyone with health insurance can be vaccinated without any out-of-pocket cost. Pharmacies are receiving doses of the new formulations of vaccine. It will likely take longer for doctors’ offices to receive shipments. The Calvert Health Department recommends that all of our residents sign up for a covid vaccine and a flu vaccine over the next month. You will keep yourself healthier, and just as importantly, you will keep medically high-risk family members, neighbors, classmates, and coworkers safer. As Americans, we have a moral obligation to protect others who are vulnerable. Please make the effort to get your new covid and flu vaccines and keep Calvert a healthier and safer community for all.