US COVID-19, Flu Vaccine Prioritization Is Simpler Than Thought

Booster dose eligibility is broadening as the flu season approaches. An expert emphasizes the need to protect for both COVID-19 and the flu in the coming months.

Through 10-plus months of federal regulation, the availability of COVID-19 vaccines is still expanding. Developers are pursuing pediatric age group emergency use authorizations (EUAs) with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the agency just last week broadened the eligibility of booster doses to include adults who completed vaccination ≥6 months ago.

This comes at a time when influenza season is approaching as well—an outbreak risk that during last season’s third COVID-19 wave in the US was especially mild, but could be worse in 2021-22. More and more patients, today, are seeking vaccination for multiple respiratory viruses. But it’s simpler than it appears.

In an interview with Contagion, William Schaffner, MD, Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, helped lay clear the messaging for COVID-19 and flu vaccination.

“The prioritization is pretty easy: if you haven’t got it, get it,” Schaffner said. “If you’ve received it and you’re due for a booster, get it. We need to keep pushing vaccination as much as possible. That’s absolutely fundamental.”

Schaffner additionally stressed the unpredictability of this flu season, as well as the state of COVID-19 boosters. As he noted, the epidemiological understanding of COVID-19 is still developing—but this may be the first iteration of an annual or semi-regular COVID-19 booster.

“We’re learning about the effectiveness and long-term protection of the vaccines. So stick with us; we don’t want to get too far ahead of our skis,” Shaffner said. “That said, the short answer is yes, this virus is going to be with us.”

Lastly, Schaffner discussed the overwhelming benefit of mRNA vaccines in COVID-19, and how the groundbreaking vaccine development has inspired preventive research in fields including influenza.

“We’ve been preoccupied (with COVID),” Schaffner said. “But there have been people in the laboratories shield from that day-to-day, who are working on other new mRNA vaccines, including against the flu.”