CDC urges vaccinations as flu, COVID-19 and RSV rates rise

As illnesses from the three respiratory viruses tracked by Kentucky health departments — influenza, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) — continue to pile up, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued health advisories urging more Americans to get vaccinated .

State graphics adapted from Kentucky Health News

“Low vaccination rates, combined with continued increases in national and international respiratory disease activity caused by multiple pathogens, including influenza viruses, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), and RSV, may result in more -severe illness and increased strain on health care capacity in the coming weeks,” said the advisory, which also reported an increase in multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children following COVID-19 infection.

The advisory says there is an urgent need to increase immunization against influenza, COVID-19 and RSV, along with the use of authorized and approved therapeutics this winter.

Kentucky cases

The need for more people to get vaccinated is true in Kentucky.

As of Sept. 18, 58 percent of the state’s total population was considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 41 percent had received a booster dose, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

During the 2022-23 flu season, 40.1% of Kentuckians received a flu shot. Among children, that rate is 47.1 percent, and among adults it’s 35.8 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

And there don’t seem to be enough of the recently approved RSV vaccines, Louisville’s WDRB reported on Dec. 6.

Dr. Michael Kuduk, president of the Kentucky Medical Association, told WDRB’s Molly Jett that the RSV antibody shot for children is “almost unaffordable” and the vaccine for pregnant women is “really hard to find.”

“Manufacturers can’t keep up with demand,” Kuduk said. “It’s not going to help anyone this year in the middle of the RSV season.”

The State Department of Public Health’s latest weekly respiratory disease report shows that activity of COVID-19 and RSV is high, flu activity is increasing and hospitalizations for RSV are on the rise.

COVID 19

In the week ending Dec. 9, Kentucky reported 3,144 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19, down from 3,907 the previous week. The state reported 1,109 laboratory-confirmed flu cases, up from 866 the previous week.

Respiratory diseases

In the week ended Dec. 9, emergency room visits for Kentucky’s three respiratory illnesses remained high but fell slightly to 3,383 visits, down from 3,631 the previous week.

Flu

Of the cases during the week, 1,661 were for influenza compared to 1,650 the previous week; 1,070 were for COVID-19, down from 1,183 the previous week; and 753 were for RSV, down from 798 the previous week.

Diseases in children

This week’s dashboard divides child cases into two age categories, 0 to 4 and 5 to 17.

Among children under 4 years of age, there were 1,201 emergency room visits for respiratory illnesses. Of those, 548 were for RSV, down from 597 the previous week; 496 were for the flu, down from 522 the previous week; and 157 were for COVID-19, down from 184 the previous week.

Among children 5-17 years of age, there were 614 emergency room visits for respiratory illnesses. Of these, 472 were for the flu, compared to 393 the previous week; 79 were for COVID-19, up from 54 the previous week; and 63 were for RSV, down from 72 the previous week.

Total hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses also fell slightly, to 577, from 584 the previous week. Of those, 310 were for COVID-19, down from 320 the previous week; 172 for RSV, an increase from 159; and 95 for the flu, down from 105 the previous week.

Among children 0-4, there were 103 hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses, down from 127 the previous week. Of these, 93 were for RSV, compared with 92; seven were for the flu, down from 18; and three were for COVID-19, down from 17.

Among children ages 5-17, there were nine hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses in the week ended Dec. 9, down from 11 the previous week. Of those, four were for the flu, down from five; four were for RSV, compared with three; and one was for COVID-19, down from three.

A CDC report for the week ending Dec. 9 showed that hospitalization rates for COVID-19 in 10 Kentucky counties were above 20 hospitalizations per 100,000 people, which the CDC considers high.

Kentucky COVID-19 Vaccination Dashboard
In Christian County, 41% of residents have been vaccinated against COVID-19 — among the lowest in the state. (Image of the Kentucky COVID-19 Vaccination Information Board)

Letcher County continues to stand out with a rate of 41.8 hospitalizations for COVID-19 per 100,000 residents. The previous week, that percentage was 74.2. Other counties with a “high” designation are Pike, with a rate of 23.8 per 100,000; Martin (20.2); Magoffen (20); Lawrence (20.2); Johnson (20); Greenup (20.2); Floyd (20); Carter (20.2); and Boyd (20.2).

Death cases

As of Oct. 1, the state health department has attributed 99 deaths to COVID-19, six to the flu and none to RSV. No deaths were reported in the week ending December 8.

Respiratory-related deaths on the state’s weekly dashboard are reported based on when they occur, sometimes resulting in a delay between the actual date of death and submission to the department.


Melissa Patrick is a reporter for Kentucky Health News, an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Public Affairs, based at the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. She has received several competitive grants, including the Center for Health Media and Policy’s 2016-17 Nursing and Health Care Media Fellow, which allowed her to focus and write about nursing workforce issues in Kentucky ; and the 2017-18 Association of Health Journalists Annual Fellowship Regional Health Journalism Program. She is a former registered nurse and holds degrees in Journalism and Community Leadership and Development from the UK.

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