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Another ‘Tripledemic’ of Respiratory Viruses?

A roundup of the latest public health news on COVID-19, RSV, and the flu

September 19, 2023

The updated COVID-19 vaccine is heading to pharmacies and provider offices this week as infectious disease experts urge everyone to plan ahead for the upcoming cold and flu season.

Last year, the United States faced a so-called “tripledemic” with COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and the flu circulating at the same time. Here are five things to know ahead of respiratory virus season:

  • Updated COVID-19 vaccines available:  The CDC recommended the updated Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for everyone six months and older, saying the shot can “restore protection and provide enhanced protection against the variants currently responsible for most infections and hospitalizations in the United States.”
    • COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to steadily rise, increasing 7.7 percent (20,538) for the week ending September 9.
    • EG.5 is the most prevalent variant at just under 25 percent of cases.
  • Public interest:  About 30 percent of respondents in a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week said they were “very interested” in getting the updated vaccine, and another 24 percent were “somewhat interested.”
  • ‘Wild to Mild’ flu campaign:  The CDC has launched a new digital campaign that seeks to reverse declining flu vaccination rates among key groups, with a focus on pregnant people. The campaign emphasizes that vaccination can help reduce the severity of symptoms for those who contract the flu.
    • Overall flu vaccine use during pregnancy was 16.6 percentage points lower at the end of March 2023 (48.9%) compared to March 2020 (65.5%).
  • New tools for RSV:  RSV made an earlier-than-expected return last year. The virus is particularly concerning for younger children and older adults, resulting in 58,000–80,000 hospitalizations among children under 5 and 60,000–160,000 hospitalizations among adults 65 years and older, per the CDC.
    • This year, the FDA approved two RSV vaccines for people over 60 and a monoclonal antibody therapy for infants and toddlers at high risk. During August, the FDA also approved a vaccine for pregnant people to protect their babies from RSV.
  • Quotable:  “Pediatricians are sadly familiar with the dangers of RSV and its devastating consequences for some families,” American Academy of Pediatrics President Sandy Chung, MD, FAAP, said in a statement. “We are eager to offer all infants this protection and urge federal officials to see that it is made available and affordable in all communities.”

HAP encourages everyone to limit the spread of viral illnesses this season by staying up to date on their vaccinations, staying home when sick, and practicing proper coughing and sneezing etiquette. It’s also important to contact your health care provider with any questions you may have.

Additional information about COVID-19, the flu, and RSV is available online.