The Pennsylvania Department of Health and local healthcare providers encouraged all Pennsylvanians to stay up to date on their vaccinations to protect against the flu and COVID-19 heading into respiratory disease season during a news conference today at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital.
“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 Acting Secretary of Health Dr. Debra Bogen. “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 vaccinations are updated to protect against new virus variants circulating in Pennsylvania, and the United States. Health care providers recommend these vaccinations for people six months of age and older. Vaccinations are especially important for high-risk groups including people 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 health care provider to determine eligibility and availability. For infants in 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 health care 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.
“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. Michael R. Ripchinski, Chief Physician Executive at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital. “Right now is the best time to receive the flu, COVID, and RSV vaccine to help prevent a potential surge in respiratory infections and keep our communities safer.”
Most insurance plans cover flu, COVID-19 and RSV immunizations, but 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.
“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 David Buono, Deputy Insurance Commissioner for the Office of Market Regulation at the Pennsylvania Insurance Department. “If you do not have comprehensive health coverage, the COVID-19 vaccine may still available at no cost through these other programs. Cost should not be and does not need to be a deterrent to any Pennsylvanian who wants a vaccine.”
If any consumer has questions about their insurance or an issue with their insurance, like a bill for a vaccine they should not have received, they may contact PID by visiting insurance.pa.gov or by phone at 1-877-881-6388.
For more information and to find a nearby vaccination location visit vaccines.gov. Additionally, the Pennsylvania Department of Health recently launched a respiratory virus dashboard to keep residents informed about the impact the various respiratory diseases are having across the state. The dashboard is updated weekly.