Getting the New Bivalent COVID-19 Booster and Flu Vaccine Can Reduce Severe Illness and Help Protect the Healthcare System from Becoming Overwhelmed This Winter

With three serious respiratory illnesses already circulating in LA County, the healthcare system is likely to see an increased demand for medical care for those with severe illness.  Already, ahead of a possible winter COVID-19 surge, flu cases in LA County are more than double what has been reported in October for the past five years; 11.3% of specimens from clinical laboratories in the county tested positive for influenza in mid-October, with the number of cases rapidly rising.

The higher number of flu cases has already impacted the health care system with 23% of newborn-to-4-year-olds seen at emergency departments in October experiencing influenza-like illness. The data also shows that about 17% of 5-11-year-olds at emergency departments had influenza-like illness. 

There has also been an increase this October in respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which can cause serious illness in both the very young and the elderly. Currently, 12% of lab specimens are testing positive for RSV which is higher than the peak observed during 2019-20, and on par with the peak of the 2021-2022 season. And already, 7% of emergency department visits among children newborn-4 are related to RSV, an unusually high number for October. 

While we are not yet seeing a major increase in pediatric bed utilization, high levels of flu and RSV cases, coupled with a possible winter COVID-19 surge, could easily stress the healthcare system later this fall. Fortunately, there are some simple actions we can take to prevent respiratory illness: getting the annual seasonal flu vaccine and the updated COVID-19 Fall booster, washing hands frequently, staying home if you have symptoms of respiratory illness, and wearing a well-fitting, high filtration mask when indoors.  

It’s also important to test for COVID-19 and if there are persistent or significant symptoms, to immediately check with a healthcare provider because they are able to provide additional tests and appropriate treatment for Flu, RSV, and COVID-19.

The flu and the updated COVID-19 Fall boosters are also readily available at Public Health sites, pharmacies, and other locations across the county; to find a site near you call 2 – 1 – 1 (LA County Info Line) or enter your zip code at VaccineFinder.org

Seniors and residents who can’t easily leave their home can contact Public Health telehealth services at (833) 540-0473, seven days a week, from 8:00 am to 8:30 pm to arrange for an at-home COVID-19 Fall booster and primary series vaccinations or transportation to a vaccination center. Insurance is not required, and callers can be assisted in multiple languages.