Altoona, PA - With many Pennsylvanians gathering for holiday celebrations in the coming weeks, the Pennsylvania Department of Health is encouraging all residents to ensure they are up to date on their vaccinations to protect against the flu and COVID-19 during winter respiratory disease season. The number of people with flu and COVID-19 is rising, as is usual for this point in the season.
“Getting vaccinated remains the most effective way to protect yourself against respiratory viruses that regularly circulate during the holiday season, when many of us attend gatherings with family and friends. It’s safe to receive both the flu and COVID-19 vaccinations at the same time,” said Acting Secretary of Health Dr. Debra Bogen during a visit to a vaccine clinic today at the Blair County State Health Center. “Flu and COVID-19 vaccinations slow the spread of disease, prevent severe illness, and lower the likelihood of hospitalization, especially among children, older adults, and people who have weakened immune systems.”
The flu and COVID-19 vaccines are updated to protect against new virus variants circulating in Pennsylvania and the United States. Health care providers recommend these vaccinations for people six months of age and older. Vaccinations are especially important for high-risk groups including people 65 and older, people with certain medical conditions, and those at a higher risk of developing complications from respiratory illness.
For the first time ever, a vaccine is available to protect older adults from severe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Monoclonal antibody products are available to protect infants and young children from severe RSV. Talk to your health care provider for information about RSV vaccination and monoclonal antibody products. Learn more about RSV and RSV prevention.
“It takes up to two weeks to reach full immunity after receiving your vaccines, so I encourage you to get them now, before you get together with loved ones for holiday gatherings,” said Dr. Bogen.
Respiratory viruses share similar symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, a runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, chills, and fatigue. For residents at higher risk for more serious illness due to age or health status, it is recommended to visit a health care provider and get tested as soon as symptoms arise to be eligible for antiviral medications, which are available for the flu, COVID-19, and RSV. These medications ease symptoms, shorten the length of a viral infection and reduce the risk of serious health outcomes if started early in the illness course.
Most insurance plans cover flu, COVID-19 and RSV immunizations, but for people who are underinsured or uninsured, the COVID-19 vaccine is available through local State Health Centers like the one Dr. Bogen visited today, Federally Qualified Health Centers, and the CDC Bridge Access Program. For children who qualify, COVID-19 and flu vaccines, as well as other routine childhood immunizations are available at no cost through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program.
If any consumer has questions about their insurance or an issue with their insurance, like a bill for a vaccine they should not have received, they may contact the Pennsylvania Insurance Department by visiting insurance.pa.gov or by phone at 1-877-881-6388.
For more information and to find a nearby vaccination location visit vaccines.gov. Additionally, the Pennsylvania Department of Health recently launched a respiratory virus dashboard to keep residents informed about the impact the various respiratory diseases are having across the state. The dashboard is updated weekly.
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