BATON ROUGE, La. — Governor John Bel Edwards and Louisiana Department of Health leadership received their seasonal flu and updated COVID-19 booster shots today at Our Lady of the Lake's North Baton Rouge Clinic. They urged other Louisianans to stay up to date on their vaccines as we head into the fall.
The new bivalent COVID-19 booster provides protection against variants of the virus that are now circulating. The flu vaccine offers added protection against respiratory illness. LDH recommends all Louisianans get the new bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccine and the flu vaccine to protect against severe illness that could lead to hospitalization.
Before COVID-19 emerged in 2020, Louisiana had very active flu seasons in 2017 and 2018. In the 2017-18 flu season, an estimated 1,300 people died after becoming ill with flu and an additional 18,000 people were hospitalized. In the 2018-19 flu season, LDH estimates 1,000 people died and 14,000 people were hospitalized.
After two years of mild flu seasons due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts like mask wearing and social distancing, U.S. health officials including LDH are preparing for what could be an active flu season. Some countries in the southern hemisphere, which can be predictors of flu activity in the northern hemisphere, are experiencing their most severe flu season in five years.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the 2019–2020 season, considered to be a "normal" season, included 38 million people getting sick with flu nationwide. Healthcare providers received 18 million visits due to flu, and there were an estimated 400,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 flu deaths.
Even an average flu season coupled with increased COVID-19 transmission this fall or winter could strain Louisiana's healthcare system.
CDC has recommended bivalent formulations of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use as a single booster dose at least two months following primary or booster vaccination. These updated boosters are formulated to offer continued protection against the original strain, while also offering better protection against the two lineages of the Omicron variant, BA.4 and BA.5, that represent over 90% of currently circulating virus.
“This past Saturday, I got to watch LSU and Southern play in Tiger Stadium along with 100,000 plus fans. I was reminded just how far we’ve come in making our way back to normal. But we have to remember that COVID is still here, and we are currently coming down from our sixth and longest surge," Gov. Edwards said. "Every day we are still reporting COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, and the best way to prevent serious illness is to stay up-to-date on your vaccinations. I also want to urge everyone to get their flu shot as we enter flu season. Remember, it is safe to receive your COVID booster and flu shot at the same time, as I did today.”
"As summer winds down, we celebrate the start of a new school year, the return of football season and gatherings with family and friends over the holidays. To enjoy this season to the fullest, we urge you to protect yourself and your loved ones by getting the updated COVID booster and the flu vaccine," LDH Secretary Dr. Courtney N. Phillips said. "The updated booster offers continued protection against the original strain of COVID while also keeping you better protected against the newer variants behind nearly all current infections. The flu vaccine is also critical, as we anticipate an active flu season. My 11-year-old son and I get our vaccinations each year to stay healthy and able to fully engage in work, school and fun activities. Along with reducing doctors’ visits and missed work and school, flu vaccination can reduce serious flu complications that can lead to hospitalization and even death. We encourage Louisiana residents to get both the updated COVID booster and flu vaccine, so we can enjoy this time together in good health."
"As we enter fall, we continue to come down from our sixth and longest COVID-19 surge and life in Louisiana feels relatively back to normal. Our aim is to keep it that way," said LDH State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter. "Unfortunately, COVID-19 will be with us for a while. And even an average flu season paired with increased COVID-19 transmission could put a strain on our hospitals and their ability to provide care -- and many experts are forecasting the U.S. will have an above average flu season. That is why I am getting both my updated COVID-19 booster and flu shot today, and I urge everyone who is eligible to make a plan today to do the same."
The flu has a tremendous impact on school attendance and on the families of school children. Twenty-eight percent of school-aged children get the flu each year, and for every 100 children, flu accounts for 63 missed school days a year. Also, of every 100 children who get the flu, 25 family members will come down with the flu within three days.
Go to vaccines.gov to find nearby vaccination locations for the new COVID-19 booster and flu shot. Louisiana residents who have questions about the flu or COVID-19 vaccines and where to find them can also call 211.
Ideally, everyone six (6) months of age and older should get their flu shot by the end of October. That’s because it can take time for your body to recognize and respond to the vaccine. Since flu activity can last as late as May, Louisianans are encouraged to get a flu shot sooner rather than later.
CDC and LDH recommend that people ages 12 years and older receive 1 bivalent mRNA booster at least two months after completion of the two-dose primary series and any additional boosters. This booster replaces all prior booster recommendations for this age group:
In addition to flu vaccines, there are other ways you can fight the flu: