(NEW YORK) — With kids back in school, COVID hospitalizations on the rise across the country and flu season right around the corner, health experts say now is the time to get young people vaccinated.
In addition to COVID-19 and flu, another respiratory virus, RSV, is also circulating, according to Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, a primary care pediatrician at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City.
“Most kids are going back to school, or have already been back in school for several weeks and, unfortunately, we are starting to see viruses that are circulating at the same time,” Bracho-Sanchez told Good Morning America. “This is definitely the time you want to make sure your children are protected against these serious respiratory viruses.”
Bracho-Sanchez said that while kids are still likely to get minor illnesses throughout the school year, parents now have a way to protect their kids against the most serious viruses, and that is through immunizations.
On Tuesday, the director of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on the recommendation that all Americans aged 6 months and older receive the updated COVID booster.
Flu vaccines are already available throughout the U.S., and for the first time an immunization to protect against RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is now available for infants and those who are pregnant.
Here are five things for parents to know about currently available immunizations and kids, according to Bracho-Sanchez.
1. Kids ages 6 months and older can get the COVID vaccine.
The newly-available boosters, made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are each approved for those aged 12 and older and authorized for emergency use for children between ages 6 months and 11 years, meaning anyone ages 6 months and older can get a shot.
The FDA currently says children aged 5 and up — regardless of previous vaccination — are eligible to receive one updated booster dose at least two months after the last COVID dose.
For those aged 6 months to 4 years who have previously been vaccinated, the agency says they are eligible to receive one or two booster doses. For unvaccinated individuals in this age group, the FDA says they are eligible for three doses.
Bracho-Sanchez said that once a child has their first COVID vaccination, they’ll likely start getting one annual COVID shot as part of their routine immunization schedule.
“What we are expecting is that young kids, when they’re first getting vaccinated, will need multiple doses and then beyond that, it’s going to become a yearly immunization, much like we think about the flu vaccine,” she said.
2. The COVID vaccine helps protect against new strains of the virus.
“The COVID-19 virus that was circulating when the pandemic began is different from the one that’s circulating now,” Bracho-Sanchez explained. “So this updated immunization gives us some way to make sure that our kids are protected.”
Data on the COVID booster shot has shown it could offer additional protection against currently circulating variants and especially protect against severe disease and death, particularly for those who are elderly or immune compromised.
The boosters were formulated to target variants that are currently circulating, which are related to XBB – an offshoot of the omicron variant.
Previous results from the vaccine manufacturer indicated that the new booster also offered additional protection against the two sub variants that are currently dominating in the U.S. and make up an estimated 36% of new cases, CDC data shows.
3. Kids can get a flu shot and COVID vaccine at the same time.
“It is absolutely okay to get the [updated] COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine at the same time,” Bracho-Sanchez said. “And it’s also okay to get other immunizations that your child is due for in the same visit.”
“We know that children do really well with these vaccines and the side effects they experience are very mild, if at all, so it is okay to get both flu and COVID and potentially additional vaccines that your child is due for,” she added.
Bracho-Sanchez noted that side effects kids may experience are the same for both the COVID and flu vaccines, and may include mild fatigue, a low-grade fever and some redness or pain at the injection site. She said the side effects typically go away within 24 to 48 hours of the injection.
4. Infants and high-risk kids are eligible for the RSV shot.
For the first time this fall, Beyfortus, an immunization to protect kids against RSV, is available for all children under 8 months old.
In addition, children ages 8 to 19 months old who are vulnerable to severe infection, who meet specific health criteria or who are American Indian or Alaskan Native are also eligible to receive Beyfortus.
The one-dose shot offers about five months worth of protection, which should carry young children through the typical RSV season, according to Bracho-Sanchez.
The maker of Beyfortus said in August that said parents with commercial insurance will have the shot covered and not have a co-pay. The shot is also included in the federally funded Vaccine for Children program that ensures children on Medicaid or those under uninsured care receive the drug at no cost.
Beyfortus is expected to be available in hospitals and pediatricians’ offices the first week of October, according to Bracho-Sanchez.
She noted also that pregnant women in their third trimester are also eligible to receive an RSV shot, which means their infant will not need an RSV immunization after they are born.
5. Parents need to get vaccinated too.
Bracho-Sanchez stressed that as important as it is to make sure kids are vaccinated, it’s just as important that parents make sure they get updated vaccines for flu and COVID-19 as well.
She said that in addition to immunizations, families can remember to take precautions like washing hands and staying home when sick to keep everyone as healthy as possible.
“I think it’s still really important to remember all of the practices we learned during the height of the pandemic, like good hand washing, teaching children to cough into their sleeve and staying home, if you can, when kids are sick,” said Bracho-Sanchez. “And really try to make sure that we as adults are taking care of our health as well, so we’re not bringing extra viruses into our homes.”
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