Demetre Daskalakis, MD, MPH
Acting Director, CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases
Last autumn, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) surged to levels not seen in recent years. The simultaneous circulation of these respiratory viruses took a toll on already fragile healthcare systems.
As we head into another potentially busy autumn and winter season, we must protect people against the most serious effects of these respiratory viruses. This is a top priority for CDC ꟷꟷ and we find ourselves in the strongest position yet to achieve this, with powerful new tools available to healthcare providers and the public.
Risks with respiratory viruses
For the first time, there are vaccines to protect against these three major respiratory diseases. CDC has also improved our surveillance capabilities, and we are harnessing our detection and prediction tools to help people understand the risk of illness in their communities.
There is much at stake:
- More than 1.1 million Americans have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and while hospitalisations were declining, they have increased in recent months. With new variants appearing and the colder months approaching, we need to take precautions to avoid a surge.
- This past season, we saw between 27 and 54 million flu illnesses, with up to 650,000 hospitalisations and between 19,000 and 58,000 deaths, according to CDC preliminary estimates.
- RSV is the leading cause of hospitalisation in U.S. infants, causing an estimated 58,000 to 80,000 hospitalisations and 100 to 300 deaths among children ages 5 and under every year. Older adults are also at risk: RSV hospitalises 60,000 to 160,000 adults ages 65 years and older and causes 6,000–10,000 deaths among this population each year.
For the first time, there are vaccines to protect
against these three major respiratory diseases.
Recent advances in immunization
Earlier this year, we saw breakthrough developments come to fruition in our fight to prevent RSV, with the US Food and Drug Administration approving two immunisations: the first-ever RSV vaccines for older adults and the long-acting monoclonal antibody nirsevimab for infants and some older babies. In mid-August, the FDA approved the first RSV vaccine for use in pregnant people to protect infants against severe RSV after birth.
An updated COVID-19 vaccine is now available. While we don’t know what’s in store for this autumn and winter, we do know there are safe and effective immunisations, proven treatments and common-sense precautions to help protect ourselves and our loved ones against RSV, flu and COVID-19.