Ohio’s top doctor encourages residents to get COVID booster, flu shot this fall

As fall and cooler weather approaches, the Ohio Department of Health is encouraging Ohioans to get their flu shot and stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccination.

ODH Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff noted as people spend more time indoors and students return to school, respiratory illness such as coronavirus and influenza are more likely to spread.

“I would highly recommend fall flu shots and for everyone to stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccine series,” he said in a press conference Thursday.

Earlier this month the Centers for Disease Control endorsed COVID-19 boosters from Pfizer for people 12 and older and from Moderna for those 18 and older. The booster target Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 and aim to provide better protection against the virus.

“The updated COVID-19 boosters are formulated to better protect against the most recently circulating COVID-19 variant,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky said in a statement. “They can help restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination and were designed to provide broader protection against newer variants. This recommendation followed a comprehensive scientific evaluation and robust scientific discussion. If you are eligible, there is no bad time to get your COVID-19 booster, and I strongly encourage you to receive it.”

More than 63% of Ohioans have started the COVID vaccine and 59.05% have finished it, according to ODH.

Vanderhoff noted people who have not had a COVID vaccine in at least two months are eligible for the booster and said it’s especially important for older residents and people who are at a higher risk of serious illness to consider receiving it.

In August, 77% of Ohio’s COVID deaths were in residents ages 70 or older, he said.

Dr. Anna Goroncy, assistant professor of family and community medicine at the University of Cincinnati and geriatric medicine fellowship director at The Christ Hospital and University of Cincinnati, added people need at least two to three weeks for the booster to take effect.

Dr. LaToya Smith, geriatric medicine fellow at The Christ Hospital and University of Cincinnati, added that in addition to helping prevent serious illness or death, the coronavirus and flu vaccines can help older Ohioans maintain a higher quality of life.

“We’re seeing people that don’t even get hospitalized but have COVID and are in bed for two weeks and that can have profound effects physically, mentally and emotionally,” she said. “...If a patient likes being active or walking with their grandchildren and a severe COVID or flu case can prevent them from doing that.”

Goroncy noted the social isolation from quarantine or being ill also impacts a patient’s wellness.

“There’s also the day-to-day inconveniences of having exposure to COVID and COVID testing,” she said. “This vaccine can help prevent that.”

It’s too soon to tell if the coronavirus vaccine will need an annual booster, like the flu shot, Vanderhoff explained. Until there is enough research and enough experience with the virus, people should focus on what’s best for their health right now.

“In addition to the immunity you get from antibodies, it’s increasingly clear our vaccines have done a very good job at stimulating a long-lasting form of immunity called cellular immunity where a variety of immune cells in your body do seem to be activated and retain their ability to respond,” he said. “What remains for us to understand is how durable is that immunity and how durable is it for those who immune systems may not be functioning at their peak.”

While Ohio is reporting more than 20,000 coronavirus cases a week, most patients are no longer getting seriously ill, Vanderhoff said. As of last week, COVID patients accounted fewer than 5% of hospital beds and 3.8% of ICU beds in the state, according to the health department.

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