Feliciana Minsky, 74, of East Meadow receives a COVID vaccine...

Feliciana Minsky, 74, of East Meadow receives a COVID vaccine from Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital's mobile clinic at the Freeport Library on Tuesday. Credit: Danielle Silverman

For the first time, there are three vaccines available to help battle serious seasonal respiratory infections — flu, COVID-19 and now RSV — that sicken millions of people every winter.

But health officials on Long Island and across the  United States are concerned many people, especially those at the highest risk of falling ill from the diseases, won't roll up their sleeves this fall.

Less than 14% of Long Islanders were fully up-to-date on COVID shots through last year, according to New York State Health Department data. Flu vaccinations among children nationally have not rebounded to levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC said.

One recent national survey showed that while 65% of adults said the flu vaccine can help prevent hospitalization and death, 43% said they either didn’t plan to get one or weren’t sure.

The survey, from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, also found only 40% of adults plan to get the updated COVID-19 vaccine and just 40% of people  older than 60 intend to get the new respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, vaccine, which is recommended for those  older than 60 and certain pregnant women.

Health experts admit they need to do a better job educating the public about vaccine effectiveness and safety.

“If we don’t rebuild vaccine confidence as we start this flu season, we are really missing an opportunity to save lives,” Dr. Robert Hopkins, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, said Sept. 28 at an event with the Centers for Disease Control and Infection.

survey of people in Arizona  earlier this year showed the main reason respondents did not get the updated COVID-19 booster was they had already been infected. People were also concerned about side effects, safety and were not convinced the booster would provide any more protection over their previous vaccinations.

Vaccines have become political fodder in recent years, said Dr. Adhi Sharma, president of Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital.

"People who are typically neutral on the issue might have been swayed by some of the misinformation that was out,” said Sharma, speaking outside the hospital's mobile vaccination center in Freeport on Tuesday. “We have a long track history with vaccines starting with the smallpox vaccine during the Revolutionary War … Vaccines really are important. They do help."

Last year nationwide, about 10,000 adults died from RSV, and 300 children younger than 5, according to Dr. Mandy Cohen, director of the CDC. There were 21,000 flu deaths last season, she said. 

CDC data shows COVID-19 was associated with approximately 244,000 deaths in the  United States in 2022.

Two new reports released this week by the CDC highlight the severity of these diseases. Researchers found that even though fewer older adults are hospitalized with RSV than with flu and COVID-19, they tended to have more serious illness, ended up in the intensive care unit and needed oxygen and other therapies.

Another study showed older adults have made up 63% of all COVID-19-associated hospitalizations in 2023, but  three-fourths had not received the updated bivalent booster.

Sharma said he expects demand for flu and updated COVID-19 shots to increase over the coming weeks. A bump in COVID-19 cases usually motivates more people to look for the shot, but he said people who are elderly and those with risk factors should not wait.

Stuart Minsky, 80, of East Meadow, came to the "vaxmobile" with his wife, Feliciana, 74, to get their updated COVID-19 vaccinations.

He had COVID-19 twice, but said his illnesses would have been worse if he had not been vaccinated. Staying out of the hospital prevents him from being exposed to other pathogens and overloading the medical system, he said.

"Why clog the system?” he said. “Prevention is always the best measure for everything in life.”

Having three vaccines available this fall is an “extraordinary opportunity,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert and spokesperson for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

“These vaccines may not be perfect in being able to prevent absolutely every infection with these illnesses, but they turn a wild infection into a milder one,” he said at the briefing. 

The newest vaccine is for respiratory syncytial virus, a common respiratory virus.

Cases of RSV came earlier than usual last year and had a devastating impact on infants, young children and adults over 60.

It is estimated that 80,000 children younger than 5 and 160,000 older adults were hospitalized because of RSV last season, according to CDC Director Mandy Cohen.

In May, federal regulators approved a vaccine  to prevent RSV in adults 60 and older, followed in August by an RSV vaccine specifically for pregnant women.

A monoclonal antibody treatment to help protect infants and children up to 24 months of age from the disease was approved in July, and is expected to become available this month.

Cohen called the approval of the vaccines and therapies “historic.”

“We have effective ways to protect ourselves from the worst outcomes,” she said.

The CDC recommends that adults 60 and older receive a single dose of RSV vaccine after a discussion with their health care provider. Pregnant women should receive one dose of maternal RSV vaccine during weeks 32 through 36 of pregnancy before or during the RSV season, which starts in the fall and peaks during the winter.

Dr. Kerry Frommer Fierstein, chief executive of Allied Physicians Group and a pediatrician based in Plainview, said she believes parents will be interested in this new treatment to protect their young children.

While last flu season was deemed “moderately severe,” the illness resulted in  more than 360,000 hospitalizations and more than 21,000 deaths, Cohen said.

Across New York State, about 62% of children between the ages of 6 months and 17 years received the vaccine. That was better than the national average of 57%. Among adults it was 50% in New York and 47% in the U.S.

The CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone  older than 6 months. Most doctors recommend getting a shot at the start of the season, in September and October. Even if someone misses that window, it’s still worthwhile to get one during the winter.

“Last season, we saw the third-largest number of deaths in children from flu — 174 kids,” said Cohen, who noted that 80% of them were not fully vaccinated against flu.

Fierstein said her office vaccinated more than 200 children last Sunday.

“It’s still early in the season, so it’s hard to know where we will end up,” she said. “But the people who want it are very happy to get it.”

She explains to patients and their parents that getting an annual flu vaccine is like updating your computer system.

“We need to update your immune system so it knows how to fight it,” she said.

Experts admit vaccine fatigue may be to blame for the poor reception received by the previous COVID-19 booster shot. They  hope for higher interest in the latest updated vaccine, approved just a few weeks ago.

While 77% of Suffolk County residents received the primary series of the vaccine, only 13.6% are up-to-date, which is defined as completing all COVID-19 vaccinations, including the bivalent booster. In Nassau County, 85% received their primary series, and 13.8% are up to date.

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an updated COVID-19 vaccine. People can receive their flu and COVID-19 vaccines during the same visit.

“[COVID-19] continues to pose a health threat,” Cohen said.

Most people becoming seriously ill and hospitalized because of COVID-19 are those who are older and have underlying health issues such as diabetes, obesity and asthma.

Even though COVID-19 tends to be milder in children, it can still cause severe illness and hospitalization. Cohen said half of the young children in hospital intensive care units with COVID-19 have no underlying health conditions.

For the first time, there are three vaccines available to help battle serious seasonal respiratory infections — flu, COVID-19 and now RSV — that sicken millions of people every winter.

But health officials on Long Island and across the  United States are concerned many people, especially those at the highest risk of falling ill from the diseases, won't roll up their sleeves this fall.

Less than 14% of Long Islanders were fully up-to-date on COVID shots through last year, according to New York State Health Department data. Flu vaccinations among children nationally have not rebounded to levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC said.

One recent national survey showed that while 65% of adults said the flu vaccine can help prevent hospitalization and death, 43% said they either didn’t plan to get one or weren’t sure.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • This fall is the first time three vaccines are available to protect people from common upper respiratory diseases — RSV, COVID-19 and flu.

  • The RSV vaccine is available for people over the age of 60 and certain pregnant women.

  • Health experts worry public interest in vaccines has dropped and not enough people will be protected during the busy fall and winter seasons, when upper respiratory infections can quickly spread. 

The survey, from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, also found only 40% of adults plan to get the updated COVID-19 vaccine and just 40% of people  older than 60 intend to get the new respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, vaccine, which is recommended for those  older than 60 and certain pregnant women.

Health experts admit they need to do a better job educating the public about vaccine effectiveness and safety.

“If we don’t rebuild vaccine confidence as we start this flu season, we are really missing an opportunity to save lives,” Dr. Robert Hopkins, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, said Sept. 28 at an event with the Centers for Disease Control and Infection.

survey of people in Arizona  earlier this year showed the main reason respondents did not get the updated COVID-19 booster was they had already been infected. People were also concerned about side effects, safety and were not convinced the booster would provide any more protection over their previous vaccinations.

Vaccines have become political fodder in recent years, said Dr. Adhi Sharma, president of Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital.

"People who are typically neutral on the issue might have been swayed by some of the misinformation that was out,” said Sharma, speaking outside the hospital's mobile vaccination center in Freeport on Tuesday. “We have a long track history with vaccines starting with the smallpox vaccine during the Revolutionary War … Vaccines really are important. They do help."

Last year nationwide, about 10,000 adults died from RSV, and 300 children younger than 5, according to Dr. Mandy Cohen, director of the CDC. There were 21,000 flu deaths last season, she said. 

CDC data shows COVID-19 was associated with approximately 244,000 deaths in the  United States in 2022.

Two new reports released this week by the CDC highlight the severity of these diseases. Researchers found that even though fewer older adults are hospitalized with RSV than with flu and COVID-19, they tended to have more serious illness, ended up in the intensive care unit and needed oxygen and other therapies.

Another study showed older adults have made up 63% of all COVID-19-associated hospitalizations in 2023, but  three-fourths had not received the updated bivalent booster.

Nurse Abigail Fromm prepares vaccines at Mount Sinai South Nassau’s...

Nurse Abigail Fromm prepares vaccines at Mount Sinai South Nassau’s "vaxmobile" at the Freeport Library on Tuesday. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Sharma said he expects demand for flu and updated COVID-19 shots to increase over the coming weeks. A bump in COVID-19 cases usually motivates more people to look for the shot, but he said people who are elderly and those with risk factors should not wait.

Stuart Minsky, 80, of East Meadow, came to the "vaxmobile" with his wife, Feliciana, 74, to get their updated COVID-19 vaccinations.

He had COVID-19 twice, but said his illnesses would have been worse if he had not been vaccinated. Staying out of the hospital prevents him from being exposed to other pathogens and overloading the medical system, he said.

"Why clog the system?” he said. “Prevention is always the best measure for everything in life.”

Having three vaccines available this fall is an “extraordinary opportunity,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert and spokesperson for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

“These vaccines may not be perfect in being able to prevent absolutely every infection with these illnesses, but they turn a wild infection into a milder one,” he said at the briefing. 

RSV hospitalized 80,000 kids under 5: CDC

The newest vaccine is for respiratory syncytial virus, a common respiratory virus.

Cases of RSV came earlier than usual last year and had a devastating impact on infants, young children and adults over 60.

It is estimated that 80,000 children younger than 5 and 160,000 older adults were hospitalized because of RSV last season, according to CDC Director Mandy Cohen.

In May, federal regulators approved a vaccine  to prevent RSV in adults 60 and older, followed in August by an RSV vaccine specifically for pregnant women.

A monoclonal antibody treatment to help protect infants and children up to 24 months of age from the disease was approved in July, and is expected to become available this month.

Cohen called the approval of the vaccines and therapies “historic.”

“We have effective ways to protect ourselves from the worst outcomes,” she said.

The CDC recommends that adults 60 and older receive a single dose of RSV vaccine after a discussion with their health care provider. Pregnant women should receive one dose of maternal RSV vaccine during weeks 32 through 36 of pregnancy before or during the RSV season, which starts in the fall and peaks during the winter.

Dr. Kerry Frommer Fierstein, chief executive of Allied Physicians Group and a pediatrician based in Plainview, said she believes parents will be interested in this new treatment to protect their young children.

Last flu season killed 174 kids

While last flu season was deemed “moderately severe,” the illness resulted in  more than 360,000 hospitalizations and more than 21,000 deaths, Cohen said.

Across New York State, about 62% of children between the ages of 6 months and 17 years received the vaccine. That was better than the national average of 57%. Among adults it was 50% in New York and 47% in the U.S.

The CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone  older than 6 months. Most doctors recommend getting a shot at the start of the season, in September and October. Even if someone misses that window, it’s still worthwhile to get one during the winter.

“Last season, we saw the third-largest number of deaths in children from flu — 174 kids,” said Cohen, who noted that 80% of them were not fully vaccinated against flu.

Fierstein said her office vaccinated more than 200 children last Sunday.

“It’s still early in the season, so it’s hard to know where we will end up,” she said. “But the people who want it are very happy to get it.”

She explains to patients and their parents that getting an annual flu vaccine is like updating your computer system.

“We need to update your immune system so it knows how to fight it,” she said.

COVID booster uptake under 14% on Long Island 

Experts admit vaccine fatigue may be to blame for the poor reception received by the previous COVID-19 booster shot. They  hope for higher interest in the latest updated vaccine, approved just a few weeks ago.

While 77% of Suffolk County residents received the primary series of the vaccine, only 13.6% are up-to-date, which is defined as completing all COVID-19 vaccinations, including the bivalent booster. In Nassau County, 85% received their primary series, and 13.8% are up to date.

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an updated COVID-19 vaccine. People can receive their flu and COVID-19 vaccines during the same visit.

“[COVID-19] continues to pose a health threat,” Cohen said.

Most people becoming seriously ill and hospitalized because of COVID-19 are those who are older and have underlying health issues such as diabetes, obesity and asthma.

Even though COVID-19 tends to be milder in children, it can still cause severe illness and hospitalization. Cohen said half of the young children in hospital intensive care units with COVID-19 have no underlying health conditions.

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