Hello, dear readers, and welcome to our monthly letters column. With chillier weather in much of the country, we're getting a lot of questions about flu and COVID-19 prevention. And to everyone who wrote in last month to share your frustration with (and adverse effects from) the return to standard time, you are not alone. The switch prompted some interesting questions about sleep, which we'll address in future columns. And now, your letters.
-- Let's begin with the COVID-19 vaccine. The days of the two-shot series, which marked the rollout of the vaccine at the end of 2020, are over. Today, the CDC recommends that everyone 5 years of age and older receive a single dose of what is being called the updated vaccine. And while these are sometimes being referred to as “boosters,” a reader -- and physician -- from Spokane, Washington, points out that's not exactly accurate. "My understanding is that the new COVID-19 vaccine formulation is not considered a booster," she wrote. "A person who has never received a COVID-19 vaccine in the past can get the protective benefit of this single vaccination."
Yes, that is correct. The updated vaccine, which protects against the newer variants of the virus, is a stand-alone shot. A single dose offers protection, regardless of previous vaccination status. It is expected that COVID prevention will follow the familiar pattern of the flu vaccine. That is, a single shot, updated each year. Anyone over the age of 6 months is eligible to get an age-appropriate dose of the updated vaccine. If you have previously received the bivalent vaccine, it is recommended that you wait at least two months before getting the updated shot.
-- Another popular topic is if it's OK to get the COVID-19 and flu vaccines at the same time. The answer is yes. In fact, an interesting study in a group of health care workers in Massachusetts suggests that doing so may boost immune response. A month after being vaccinated for the flu and COVID, the group who received both vaccines at the same time were found to have higher levels of COVID-fighting antibodies than those who got their shots on separate days. With COVID and flu seasons both underway, the important thing is to get vaccinated. The shots lower your risk of getting sick and help protect against severe disease if you do.
-- We will wrap up with a few words about RSV, which is short for respiratory syncytial virus. In healthy adults, it usually causes mild, coldlike symptoms. Most people recover quickly. But in infants, whose immune systems are still developing, RSV can cause severe symptoms and lead to hospitalization. This year, for the first time, an RSV vaccine has become available. Although manufacturing issues originally limited availability of the vaccine, that bottleneck is now easing. The vaccine protects against severe disease. Parents should check with their pediatricians for availability.
Thank you, as always, for taking the time to write to us. It's wonderful to know that you find the columns interesting, thought-provoking and useful.
(Send your questions to [email protected], or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10960 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1955, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)