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What Vermonters need to know about COVID-19, flu and RSV shots this fall

A photo of clear syringes in a tray, with pink ties around the tops.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public File
While COVID and flu shots are OK to get at the same time, Vermont's health commissioner recommends getting the RSV vaccine separately, since it hasn't been as well-tested alongside other vaccinations.

The leaves are changing and the days are getting cooler. That all signals the return of cold and flu season… and RSV. And COVID.

Vermont’s health commissioner Dr. Mark Levine joined Vermont Edition host Mikaela Lefrak to talk about how to stay healthy this season.

All about the new COVID vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the new vaccine for everyone 6 months and older. Both Pfizer and Moderna have released vaccines.

Dr. Levine says Vermonters should think of COVID vaccines like they do the flu vaccine — a new one each year, updated for the strains circulating at the time.

"This vaccine will protect people from what is currently circulating now, " Levine said, "not from what we used to call the ancestral strain, or any of the previous variants over the past several years."

He added that the original COVID-19 vaccines are still protecting people from the initial strain of COVID. Nearly everyone in the U.S. is protected in some way, either from having the virus, getting vaccinated, or both.

"Probably 97% of people in the country or more have antibody evidence... so all that protection against the most serious outcomes that we've talked about over time is still present for people at this point," Levine said. "This new vaccine will though broaden the coverage now to what is now most being seen clinically in our communities."

The health commissioner said getting vaccinated is a good idea for:

  • reducing serious outcomes from COVID-19, like hospitalization
  • decreasing how disruptive it is to our daily lives
  • helping reduce the likelihood of developing long COVID

Levine said if you have had COVID-19 recently, it's best to wait three months before getting the new vaccine.
More fromVermont Public:Answering your questions about COVID-19 in Vermont this fall

How to get the new COVID vaccine

While the new COVID-19 vaccine is technically available now, Vermonters might run into challenges finding it at pharmacies or their doctor's office.

Since the vaccine was just recently approved on Monday, Sept. 11, the country is still in the midst of the distribution process. Vermont has received 3,000 adult COVID vaccine doses as of Sept. 25.

"I don't want people to feel pressured by the fact they can't get it this week or last week, because they will be able to get it very soon into the near future," he said. "And they're in a very different place regarding their immunity to COVID than we were several years ago. But it is frustrating for people — I do understand. And I empathize with them."

As far as paying for the vaccine, Levine said it should come at no cost to Vermonters.

Insurance, Medicare and Medicaid should cover the shots, he said, and people without insurance can get a COVID-19 vaccine covered through the CDC's Bridge Access Program.

"They should be going to their pharmacies, making sure that their health care provider is part of that program, or going to one of our local district health offices, which can provide that vaccine to them for free through that program," Levine said.

About flu, RSV

Levine said this fall marks a first in the public health world.

"This is really the first respiratory virus season that we have three vaccines available for the three main respiratory viruses that cause people to end up in a hospital: COVID, flu and RSV," Levine said. "This is wonderful news for the public health community."

And while it's OK to get your COVID and flu shots at the same time, Levine says it's best to get the RSV shot separately.

"The RSV vaccinehasn't really been tested yet, in terms of giving it at the same time as a COVID or a flu vaccine," he said. "So for that reason, I and many others are not recommending people get all three vaccines together, or to get the RSV vaccine with one other vaccine."

The RSV vaccine is intended for people 60 and older, Levine said. There's also an immunization for kids 8 months and younger. Pregnant people can receive an RSV vaccine between 32 and 36 weeks of pregnancy, if that falls during the respiratory illness season.

"It's just been announced," Levine said of the RSV vaccine for pregnant people. "So the hope is that will be out this fall in time for when RSV picks up its pace in the community."

Broadcast at noon Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Andrea Laurion joined Vermont Public as a news producer for Vermont Edition in December 2022. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. Before getting into audio, Andrea worked as an obituary writer, a lunch lady, a wedding photographer assistant, a children’s birthday party hostess, a haunted house actor, and an admin assistant many times over.
Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.