What to know about the new COVID, flu and RSV shots in Alaska this fall  

Syringes pre-loaded with doses of the COVID-19 vaccine await injection at a clinic in Soldotna on Friday, April 16, 2021. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) usually feels like a common cold, but it’s more risky for people over 60 years old and infants. Last year was the first year that older adults could get an RSV vaccine, and this is the first year infants can get immunized too. 

Sarah Aho, the immunization program manager for the state of Alaska, said this new immunization for RSV, Nirsevimab, can reduce the risk of hospitalization by up to 80%

“That is just an incredible reduction,” Aho said. “No one wants to see their baby in a hospital, and that can be struggling to breathe — that can be even death. So I think Nirsevimab is an incredible tool that we’ve never had before that’s available to all children in Alaska.”

Nirsevimab is recommended for babies under 8 months and up to 19 months for babies who are more vulnerable — including babies who are immunocompromised, have lung disease or cystic fibrosis, or who are of American Indian or Alaska Native heritage. 

Aho said Alaskans can also expect to see new mRNA COVID vaccinations in Alaska as soon as this week. She said the vaccines are no longer considered boosters, but are a yearly formulation.

“You can think of it kind of like the flu vaccine that’s reformulated every year to match what scientists are expecting to see in the communities,” said Aho. “That’s kind of what’s happened with COVID vaccines this fall.”

Aho said the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices debated whether they should recommend this new vaccine only for those at high-risk of complications from COVID. But ultimately, they decided to recommend it for everyone six months and older. 

Aho said flu vaccines are already available throughout the state and this year, older adults can get a higher dose of the vaccine to give their immune system an “extra boost of protection.” People under 2 and over 65 are the age groups most vulnerable to the flu. 

Aho said for prevention, Alaskans should take the typical precautions. That means washing hands, staying home if you’re sick, avoiding sick people, covering your cough, and not touching your face. And Aho said it’s too early to know whether this winter will be a bad one for viruses and infections. 

She said people can find out where to get vaccinations by calling their pharmacy or going to vaccinate.alaska.gov or vaccines.gov.

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Rachel Cassandra covers health and wellness for Alaska Public Media. Reach her at rcassandra@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Rachel here.

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