Pennsylvania Health Department Urges Residents to Get Flu and COVID-19 Vaccinations

Acting Health Secretary Dr. Debra BogenActing Health Secretary Dr. Debra Bogen receives both a flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine from Penn Medicine Lancaster General Pharmacist Colin Thomas during a news conference to promote vaccinations as the respiratory disease season is now underway. /Submitted Image

PENNSYLVANIA —The Pennsylvania Department of Health is urging all Pennsylvanians to get vaccinated against both the flu and COVID-19 as we head into respiratory disease season. The announcement was made during a news conference on Thursday, October 19, 2023, at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital.

Acting Secretary of Health Dr. Debra Bogen emphasized the importance of vaccinations in protecting against circulating respiratory viruses. “Getting vaccinated remains the most effective way to protect yourself against respiratory viruses circulating this fall and winter. It’s also safe to receive both the flu and COVID-19 vaccinations at the same time, as I did today,” said Dr. Bogen.

She added that flu and COVID-19 vaccinations are crucial because they slow the spread of disease, prevent severe illness, and lower the likelihood of hospitalizations, especially among children, older adults, and people who have weakened immune systems.

The flu and COVID-19 vaccines have been updated to protect against new virus variants currently circulating in Pennsylvania and across the United States. Healthcare providers recommend these vaccinations for people six months of age and older. They are particularly important for high-risk groups, including people aged 65 and older, people with certain medical conditions, and those at a higher risk of developing complications from respiratory illness.

For the first time ever, a vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is available for people 60 years and older and residents in their third trimester of pregnancy. Residents interested in getting vaccinated for RSV should contact their healthcare provider to determine eligibility and availability. For infants experiencing their first winter season, there is also an RSV immunization available.

Respiratory viruses share similar symptoms, including fever; cough; sore throat; shortness of breath; a runny or stuffy nose; headaches; body aches; chills and fatigue. For residents at higher risk for more serious illness due to age or health status, it is recommended to visit a healthcare provider and get tested early to be eligible for antiviral medications, which are available for the flu, COVID-19, and RSV. These medications ease symptoms, shorten the length of a viral infection, and reduce the risk of serious health outcomes if started early in the illness course.

Dr. Michael R. Ripchinski, Chief Physician Executive at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital, stressed the importance of vaccinations in protecting community health. “As a family physician, I take care of newborns to our most elderly members in our community, and getting vaccinated helps protect every one of those patients. Vaccination not only protects you but also helps to reduce transmission and protects the most vulnerable individuals in our community,” said Dr. Ripchinski.

Most insurance plans cover flu, COVID-19, and RSV immunizations. However, for people who are underinsured or uninsured, the COVID-19 vaccine is available through local State Health Centers, Federally Qualified Health Centers, and the CDC Bridge Access Program. For children who qualify, COVID-19 and flu vaccines, as well as other routine childhood immunizations are available at no cost through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program.

David Buono, Deputy Insurance Commissioner for the Office of Market Regulation at the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, further clarified the issue of vaccine costs. “Fear of an unforeseen bill should not be the reason any Pennsylvanian forgoes the flu or COVID-19 vaccine. For those Pennsylvanians with comprehensive health insurance, your health insurer will cover the full cost of your vaccine if you go to an in-network provider. You will not have to pay anything for the vaccine, including a copay, coinsurance, or deductible, for providers that are in-network,” said Buono.

For more information or to find a nearby vaccination location, residents can visit vaccines.gov. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has also launched a respiratory virus dashboard to keep residents informed about the impact various respiratory diseases are having across the state. The dashboard is updated weekly.

This announcement underscores the importance of staying up to date on vaccinations for both the flu and COVID-19, particularly as we head into the respiratory disease season. It’s a reminder that getting vaccinated is not only a personal health decision but also a community responsibility to help protect the most vulnerable among us.

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