What Vaccines Should I Get This Winter?

Some health officials are warning about a potential "triple-demic" this fall and winter as influenza, COVID-19, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) surge at once. Find information about available vaccines.

The underlying principles for immunization are all about risk reduction: reducing the risk of developing or spreading infections to vulnerable individuals, reducing the need for seeking medical care, and ultimately, reducing the risk of developing severe complications such as hospitalizations and deaths.

Since every virus, vaccine, and individual is unique, health experts frequently update medical guidelines and recommendations for immunization schedules (find the latest information from Alberta Health Services). Individuals who are more susceptible to infections include premature babies, newborns or extremely sick young children, the elderly, Indigenous people, and individuals with chronic medical conditions and/or treatments that can weaken their immune system.

As we continue to live with the realities of COVID-19, all Albertans are encouraged to get a COVID immunization along with their annual influenza (flu) shot this autumn. As of July 2023, Health Canada recommends the use of bivalent mRNA vaccines for individuals who have not received their primary series (first three doses) and for individuals six months and older.

Newer bivalent vaccines offer advantages over original vaccines because they target the newer Omicron variant, XBB.1.5. Dosing recommendations for bivalent vaccines are age specific, but the consensus is that healthy adults and children should get a COVID immunization six months after their last dose or COVID infection. If you are unsure of whether you have had your full COVID vaccine series or if you have received a bivalent, consult with a qualified health care professional, or call Health Link at 811 for advice.

This year, medical experts are also expecting to see an increase in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), along with COVID and influenza. RSV is a common and contagious virus responsible for approximately 20 per cent of all cases of common colds and can result in hospitalizations in infants and pneumonia in frail elderly populations. Seniors are at increased risk of severe illness from RSV because the immune response slows with age, and they are more likely to have underlying conditions, such as heart and lung issues, that the virus can make worse.

As of August 2023, Health Canada approved the first RSV vaccine (Arexvy®) for individuals over 60. Due to potential supply issues, access to RSV vaccines will be limited this fall. If you or someone you know might benefit from an RSV vaccine, talk to your health care provider, pharmacist, or call Health Link at 811.

As we prepare for another cold and flu season, your best bet for staying healthy and developing longer-lasting protection from more serious illness and health complications is to get immunized against COVID and influenza. Starting October 16, 2023, influenza vaccines are available across Alberta, with the new Moderna XBB.1.5-targeted vaccine likely to be accessible around the same time. Contact your local pharmacy to book an appointment or visit the Alberta Health Services’ website for local immunization clinics.

The information provided in this article is for personal use, reference, and education only. ASEBP does not provide medical advice. Before starting any medication or product, you should always consult with your pharmacist, health care provider, or call Alberta Health Link at 811.

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How ASEBP Supports You

ASEBP’s Extended Health Care benefits provide coverage for the newly approved Arexvy® RSV vaccine, if prescribed by your health care provider. If you have a Health Spending Account, you may use these funds to pay for injections administered at a pharmacy. Contact an ASEBP benefit specialist if you have any questions.

Alberta Health Services offers free or subsidized vaccines, including COVID-19 and flu shots—check their list of eligible immunizations before submitting a claim. See the Drug Inquiry Tool on My ASEBP for eligibility details on specific injections and vaccines.

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