Public health director offers vaccine advice for upcoming season

Published 9:00 pm Friday, September 8, 2023

Fall is coming up, meaning flu — and another COVID — season is on its way.

Sue Yost

Sue Yost, Freeborn County public health director, recommended anyone who received a COVID vaccine get a booster shot for the upcoming year.

“[Scientists and health professionals] don’t know how long it lasts because the variants keep changing,” she said.

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The new year’s booster was set to be considered by the Food and Drug Administration as early as yesterday. Following approval, vaccines would likely be available shortly thereafter for providers to order, including the pharmacies at Hy-Vee, Walmart and Walgreens. She also anticipated Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea to have it. Freeborn County Public Health should also likely have shots for those who don’t have insurance or are underinsured, including children and adults, though she wasn’t sure how much would be available.

Because the COVID-19 public health emergency is over, she said it was likely there would be a charge for insurance companies as the federal government won’t be purchasing vaccines. If insurance doesn’t cover a shot, it will be charged out-of-pocket.

Yost also said to treat a COVID vaccine like a flu shot: Get it in the fall, and it should remain effective through the year.

As for the upcoming flu season, she described every year as being different.

“The flu shot has four different types of flus, two As and two B types,” she said. “They choose which type of flu that they’re going to put in that vaccine by studying the previous season, winter season that is happening in the southern hemisphere, as to — when entering their winter time, which is our summer time — to determine what flu is going to be the most prevalent, and so that is the flus that they put into the vaccine.”

And when people start getting the flu, health officials will begin tracking types of flus being contracted when people are tested.

According to Yost, sometimes vaccines will match up well while other times they won’t.

Because of that, she admitted there was no way to predict how the upcoming flu season would turn out.

“We’ve had very mild seasons for the last few years throughout COVID, and so it’s possible that we could have a season that’s quite … prevalent with influenza,” she said, admitting any vaccine determined to be a match could wind up not being a good match.

The proliferation of flus was also determined by the number of people getting their shots.

“[COVID and influenza] can be very harsh on your system, and so you never know how you’re going to react with influenza,” she said.

Besides getting vaccinated, she recommended washing hands, distancing from people, staying home when sick, covering a cough/sneeze with the crook of an arm or in a tissue and to consider wearing a mask (especially for people with a cold or any respiratory infection).

One key difference between the two: Losing a sense of taste or smell, though she admitted that didn’t always happen.

“The only way you know the difference between the two is by getting tested for both of them and finding out which one you possibly have or if you have either one,” she said.

This year’s vaccine, she said, would be more specific to the newer variants, noting last year’s booster wouldn’t be effective after so much time.

The CDC recommends getting an influenza shot in October so that protection lasts through May.

“If you get it in August it will wear out,” Yost said. “… probably by February it will start wearing out.”

Yost said many times the peak season for influenza was February.

As for COVID, she said a person could get their shot any time, though she suggested waiting and getting it at the same time as the influenza one.

According to Yost, she has noticed cases of COVID are also increasing within Freeborn County.