October typically marks the start of flu season, and this year health officials are urging people to get immunized now to stay healthy and protect others from illness.
The updated COVID vaccine, the recent availability of a flu vaccine and new options to protect against RSV make it an especially good time to get vaccinated, according to a statement from the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health.
“I encourage people to get their COVID and flu shots now,” said Daniel Shinn, an infectious disease physician who sees patients at El Camino Health and Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Mountain View.
“And if you fall into the RSV vaccination category, I would too. It’s for people over 59,” he said, adding that RSV usually affects newborns, the immunocompromised and the elderly more severely.
The county also recommended that pregnant women get an RSV vaccine, available for the first time this year.
The symptoms of flu, COVID and RSV are different, though sometimes difficult to distinguish, Shinn said. Acute influenza usually begins with the sudden onset of a high fever of 100 to 103 degrees, accompanied by shaking chills, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.
More recent COVID infections usually present with severe upper respiratory symptoms, such as a sore throat and runny nose, and the temperature is usually low grade. RSV infections often present as a cough and low-grade fever in infants and children, while symptoms are usually relatively mild in healthy adults, Shin said.
Because of the convergence of symptoms, diagnostic tests are the best option for determining whether someone has COVID, the flu or RSV, Shinn said. Home antigen tests usually work well for COVID, while a flu or RSV test requires a visit to a doctor’s office, emergency room, or emergency room.
To prevent the spread of the infection, patients should isolate themselves for a minimum of five days and be fever-free — without using fever-reducing drugs such as Tylenol or Advil — for at least 24 hours, Shinn said.
The county is also bracing for the possibility of a “triple demy” — a convergence of COVID, flu and RSV — this winter. To protect the public, he ordered a seasonal mandate for masks in health care facilities, starting Nov. 1 and running through next March.
Although local hospitals have not seen an increase in patients, there has been a recent increase in COVID infections, as evidenced by wastewater monitoring in Palo Alto, Shinn said. The county also relaunched a flu and RSV data dashboard showing recent increases in wastewater analysis.
“So I would say the biggest impact of doing something as an individual is getting vaccinated,” Shinn said.
How and where to get vaccinated?
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the California Department of Public Health have websites, vaccines.gov and myturn.ca.gov, that can help people find and make vaccination appointments with local providers.
Primary care doctors and retail pharmacies are another place to look, Shin said, adding that it’s possible to get both the COVID and flu shots at the same time.
Health insurance should cover the updated COVID vaccine for most people at no out-of-pocket cost.
The county health department also said it will help uninsured and underinsured adults 19 and older access the vaccine through the CDC Bridge Access Program. Children up to age 18 can get the vaccine for free through the federal Vaccines for Children program, which provides other routine vaccinations.
Free flu shots are given out each year to local nonprofits and public health providers and agencies, the county said.
Below is a list of clinics in Mountain View that offer COVID and flu shots:
El Camino Health Mountain View Outpatient Pharmacy
2500 Grant Rd., Suite 1B20, Mountain View, CA 94040
For adults and children over 12 years old. By appointment only.
Sutter Immunization Clinic/Palo Alto Medical Foundation
701 East El Camino Real, Mountain View, CA 94040
For babies, children and adults over 6 months of age. By appointment only.
Santa Clara Valley Health Care Multispecialty Clinic
Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
2500 California Street, Suite D, Mountain View, CA 94040
For adults and children over 3 years old. Preferred appointment.