Let COVID’s Resurgence Be a Reminder: Get the Shots You Need

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COVID-19 is back. And while it may not become a public health emergency this time – knock on wood – its resurgence serves as a timely note of caution.

John Hawkins
John Hawkins

At this writing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had reported hospitalizations nationwide were up nearly 19% in the most recent week. CDC also reported recently that COVID-19 emergency room visits for adolescents had nearly doubled. Here in Texas, cases reported for the most recent week were up by 31.6%, with more than 26,000 new probable and confirmed cases. Experts say that with the current state of COVID-19 surveillance, the actual infection rate is likely worse than the numbers show us.

The good news is that at press time, CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had just signed off on updated COVID-19 vaccines, targeting the most common current variants of the disease, for everyone 6 months of age and older. If you’re a regular reader of this column and know anything about the Texas Hospital Association, it goes without saying that we encourage everyone to get the updated shot.

While it’s discouraging that this world-upending disease is making a comeback, I’m hoping that renewed awareness of COVID-19 – and the availability of the new shot – will put vaccines in the spotlight once again. Because this is the time – as always – when vaccines need that spotlight.

We’re entering both flu season and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) season. Last fall and winter, those two diseases and COVID-19 made up the three prongs of what became known as a “tridemic” or “tripledemic.” When I wrote last fall about the dangers of a tridemic, the surge of RSV was already driving a tremendous strain on hospital bed capacity across the nation. The strain only grew as flu season wore on, making for an immensely trying period for THA’s member hospitals. With some help from the state and the federal government – which allowed COVID-19-related flexibilities on hospital bed-staging to apply to RSV cases as well – our facilities got through that tough time.

The last thing we need is a repeat, especially as hospitals work out of the persistent staffing challenges of the past several years. Fortunately, we’re in a better position than last year to mitigate or prevent a tridemic encore. Along with the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine update, we have tools we didn’t have last flu/RSV season: new RSV protections for certain populations. Since last season’s struggles, we’ve seen full approval of an RSV vaccine for adults 60 and older and a preventive monoclonal antibody drug for babies and toddlers. And just weeks ago, FDA approved an RSV shot for pregnant mothers; that vaccine just needs CDC’s signoff for full approval.

Hospitals and the public need us to take advantage of these options. And in this era in which the anti-vaccination movement has grown its ranks, let’s hope that renewed attention on the importance of vaccines will extend not just to COVID-19 and seasonal maladies, but to all approved, proven and effective shots. Conscientious-exemption data for schoolchildren in Texas show those exemptions have continued to rise – at all grade levels – over the past several years, with a particularly steep jump in 2022-23. That’s a trend we need to reverse.

So if it’s medically indicated for you, get these shots. Inform and remind the public that they’re out there. Turn this upswing of COVID-19 into a piece of a battle to raise awareness and reshape the public health conversation. It may just help make Texas a safer place.

Originally published in the Houston Medical Journal.
Sept. 14, 2023

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