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COVID, flu and RSV: Expert advice for protecting yourself as virus season approaches

New vaccine advice for fall virus season
How to protect yourself against COVID, flu and RSV 03:58

With upticks in COVID infections, new variants and other back-to-school sicknesses hitting students and families, it's already time to think about seasonal viruses as we head into fall.

On a "CBS Mornings" segment last month, Dr. Céline Gounder, a CBS News medical contributor and editor-at-large for public health at KFF Health News, shared what you need to know about protecting yourself from COVID-19, the respiratory illness RSV and the flu — three infections that raised concerns last winter about the threat of a "tripledemic."

The recommendations are especially important for those at high risk, including people who are elderly, pregnant or have chronic health conditions.

Here's what you need to know: 

Is there an RSV vaccine?

There are a few prevention tools for RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, an illness that typically causes cold-like symptoms but can sometimes be severe, especially for infants and older adults.

"(There's) a vaccine for the elderly for people 60 and up," Gounder says. "For this one, we recommend you talk to your health care provider and see if they recommend it for you."

There is also a new kind of immunization to protect babies from RSV that was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The drug, nirsevimab, is one of two new options doctors hope could soon prevent many cases of the illness, which is the leading cause of hospitalization facing American infants. Drugmakers AstraZeneca and Sanofi will market it under the brand name Beyfortus.

As Gounder explains, it isn't a vaccine but a monoclonal antibody shot.

"This is to protect young infants who are very high risk for severe RSV," Gounder says. "If you have an infant who is 8 months or less, all infants are recommended. For infants eight to 19 months, it really depends on if they were born prematurely or have other risk factors."

Previously, parents and doctors only had one option to shield some babies from RSV: monthly injections of palivizumab, an antibody drug which is recommended for use in infants and young children with conditions that put them at higher risk.

Do I need a COVID booster?

The U.S. has seen both an increase in COVID hospitalizations and an uptick in several newer COVID variants over the last few weeks. As summer comes to a close, there's concern that cases could rise more in the fall and winter.

With the rollout of this fall's updated COVID-19 vaccines, the CDC recommends a new shot for nearly all Americans to reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization or death.

The FDA says virtually all Americans as young as 6 months old are now approved or authorized to get at least one dose from either Pfizer or Moderna from their updated formulation. 

While the public has grown accustomed to calling additional shots "boosters," health officials are now moving away from the word "booster," instead calling this year's shots the "2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine" or simply the "updated COVID-19 vaccine." This clarification helps distinguish previous additional doses from this year's vaccine, which is an updated formula targeting more recent variants.

In the meantime, as cases are up, some experts suggest masking again to help reduce your risk.

CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook says he likes to use the "weather report analogy." 

"What's the weather out today? If it's raining, you will probably want to bring an umbrella. If you are in an area where there is an uptick in airborne respiratory infections like COVID, flu or RSV, you may want to take extra precautions, such as wearing a high-quality mask in indoor public spaces," he said.

When should I get the flu shot?

Because of the lingering effects social distancing and masking has had on shifting timelines, experts predict flu season will start a bit early again this year, Gounder says, so don't wait too long to get your flu shot.

"Big picture I would say September, October," Gounder advises. "Whenever you're able to get in to get your flu shot is a good time to do it."

During last year's flu season, the flu shot provided "substantial protection" for all age groups, including elderly and immunocompromised populations, according to data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported earlier this year.

-Alexander Tin contributed to this report.

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