The Illinois Department of Public Health has launched a new awareness campaign called ‘Tis the Sneezin’ to remind residents to vaccinate against the fall and winter triple threat: the flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus.
The announcement comes as data indicates six counties in the state were at an elevated level for COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national COVID Data Tracker as of the week ending Oct. 14.
Both Lee and Whiteside counties are at a low level of hospital admissions, according to the tracker. Lee County recorded 24 new hospital admissions of confirmed COVID-19 cases for the week ending Oct. 21. Whiteside County is listed as having four new hospital admissions of confirmed COVID-19 cases during the same period.
This week, the CDC issued an alert to health care providers advising of a shortage of a medication called nirsevimab, which is used to protect infants from RSV. The CDC is recommending doses should be prioritized for infants younger than 6 months old and those with certain risk factors.
The CDC also recommended that expectant parents talk to their health care provider about receiving an RSV vaccine approved for use during the 32nd to 36th week of pregnancy to protect newborns from RSV.
“IDPH is continuing to work closely with local, state and federal partners to monitor the three respiratory viruses that caused last fall and winter’s tripledemic,” IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra said. “We encourage all Illinois residents to do the same to prevent illness and protect yourself and your loved ones.
“The tools include washing your hands, improving ventilation inside your homes, staying home if sick, and getting immunized with the vaccines available to you. Why? Because ... ‘Tis the Sneezin.’”
Highlighting a common way respiratory viruses spread, the ‘Tis the Sneezin’ campaign showcases everyday moments interrupted by a common symptom of the flu, COVID-19 and RSV, along with a punny call to action to encourage vaccinations.
The campaign will reach Illinoisans in every corner of the state in both English and Spanish through a variety of traditional and online media channels, including cable, broadcast and connected TV; streaming audio and radio; billboards and bus shelters; digital display and video; and print and social media.
In September, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended newly reformulated COVID-19 shots for everyone older than 6 months. The federal agencies have given the green light for updated mRNA vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer that target the currently circulating strains of the COVID-19 virus.
They also have recently approved an updated Novavax COVID-19 vaccine. These newly approved shots are considered safe when given at the same time as other vaccines for the flu and RSV.
Studies consistently have shown that COVID-19 vaccines lower the risk of getting symptomatic COVID-19 and improve protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death.
Most Americans still can receive a COVID-19 vaccine for free. For people with health insurance, most plans will cover the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost. People who don’t have health insurance or with health plans that do not cover the cost can get a free vaccine from their local health centers and pharmacies.
For those who are uninsured or underinsured, the CDC this summer launched the Bridge Access Program that will cover the cost of COVID-19 vaccines this fall. The Vaccines for Children Program will cover vaccines for eligible children.
In June, the CDC’s ACIP recommended use of a single dose of RSV vaccine for people ages 60 and older.
In August, ACIP also recommended a new preventive measure against RSV for infants younger than 8 months and toddlers at high risk – a new monoclonal antibody shot called nirsevimab. This medication was the subject of the CDC’s advisory that warned of shortages and urged health care provides to prioritize the use of nirsevimab.
The CDC recently launched a new national respiratory virus dashboard that allows anyone to view the levels of COVID-19, flu and RSV in each state. Additional resources and COVID-19 data can be found at https://dph.illinois.gov/covid19.html.