Lehigh Valley Health Network expert talks COVID, flu, monkeypox vaccines

With flu season right around the corner and COVID-19 still present in northeast PA, physicians are advising patients to get vaccinated against both viruses as soon as they can.

Even after hitting a relative low point for cases per day in the commonwealth in the early spring, COVID data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health has shown that a strong presence remains, with a month-long peak of 3,857 reported on Sept. 8. Meanwhile, flu season, which usually sets in during the fall and winter — though "the timing and during of flu activity has been less predictable" since COVID, the Centers for Disease Control states — is on the minds of just about everyone.

As such, many people are considering another COVID booster along with their influenza vaccination. Others are wondering if it is safe to get a booster shot if you just had COVID. Some may be concerned about possible issues with getting both shots, raising questions about safety, interactions, and timing.

First things first, you should know that it is perfectly safe to get both a COVID booster and a flu shot at the same time, according to Lehigh Valley Health Network Chief Infection Control Officer Dr. Alex N. Benjamin.

"There are no known interactions between the two, so a person can get the COVID booster and the flu shot at the same time," Benjamin said, and the CDC confirmed.

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Can you still get vaccinated if you recently had COVID-19?

As for those who have recently had a case of COVID and are considering the booster, Benjamin recommends taking some time before getting it done in order ensure effectiveness.

"A person who is recovering from a COVID infection can get a booster as soon as they are able to come out of isolation. However, getting a booster so soon after infection may interfere with gaining the most benefit from the vaccine. Waiting two to three months after an infection can give you the most benefit," Benjamin said.

On the other hand, if you happen to contract the flu and recover, feel free to schedule a flu shot, "as long as the infected person meets the criteria to be out of isolation, they can get the influenza vaccine… In this situation, waiting is not necessary," Benjamin said.

Should I get vaccinated for monkeypox?

Since monkeypox has been a hot topic across the country over the last few months, vaccination questions are popping up left and right, especially when it comes to interactions with other shots.

The CDC recommends that most people, especially adolescent or young adult males, wait around four weeks after getting a monkeypox vaccination before receiving a COVID booster, "because of the observed risk for myocarditis and/or pericarditis after receipt of ACAM2000 orthopoxvirus vaccine and mRNA (i.e., Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech) and Novavax COVID-19 vaccines and the unknown risk for myocarditis and/or pericarditis after JYNNEOS administration."

Although relatively rare, myocarditis is nothing to sneeze at: it can produce chest pain, shortness of breath, and feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering, or pounding heart. According to the Mayo Clinic, severe myocarditis may weaken the heart to a point where the body does not get enough blood, leading to clots in the heart, and the potential for a stroke or heart attack.

"When reported, the (myocarditis) cases have especially been in adolescents and young adult males within several days after mRNA COVID-19 vaccination (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna," the CDC reports.

If you are concerned about any potential interactions, always make sure to tell your physician about your recent inoculations prior to getting a COVID, flu or monkeypox vaccine.

A patient is inoculated with the monkeypox vaccine on Aug. 19, 2022, in New York.
A patient is inoculated with the monkeypox vaccine on Aug. 19, 2022, in New York.

Which vaccine or booster shot should you get?

Simply put, just about everyone should get vaccinated against COVID, according to the CDC: "CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccines for everyone ages 6 months and older, and boosters for everyone 5 years and older, if eligible," the agency's website states.

The type of booster one receives — whether it is Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson and Johnson — does not matter, as the Food and Drug Administration approved "mixing-and-matching" back in April 2022.

"Just as a current reminder, Pfizer's vaccine is currently available for those 12 and older. Moderna's is available for those 18 and older. Under this new authorization, Pfizer's vaccine would become available for those aged five to 11 and Moderna's for those aged six to 17 years. And, of course, the government has said it's ordered more than 170 million updated vaccine booster doses for the fall and last week it had sent out over 25 million doses," American Medical Association Vice President of Science, Medicine, and Public Health Andrea Garcia, JD, MPH, said.

Likewise, the CDC advises influenza vaccines for anyone six years of age and older, with rare exceptions: "some people (for example, pregnant people and people with some chronic health conditions) should not get some types of influenza vaccines, and some people should not receive flu vaccines at all (though this is uncommon)."

Those under the age of 65 can get just about any flu vaccine, while the CDC advises those over 65 to consider the Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent vaccine, the Flublok Quadrivalent recombinant flu vaccine or the Fluad Quadrivalent adjuvanted flu vaccine.

“Getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever this year because it can reduce the risk of illness, hospitalization, and death from the flu,” Benjamin said. “This flu season may be more severe than in year’s past based on how influenza has been acting in other parts of the world. Like many respiratory illnesses, influenza can be spread by infected individuals who are not showing symptoms, and if we are not masking as often as we have in recent years, we could see increased transmission. Therefore, we strongly encourage everyone to make it their responsibility to get vaccinated.”

Monkeypox vaccinations are a bit different. The CDC does not advise the general population to get a vaccine, though there are a few conditions in which you may want to look into getting a JYNNEOS or ACAM2000 vaccine, which helps prevent the spread of the virus that causes monkeypox.

If you have already been exposed to monkeypox through a close contact or sexual partner, especially homosexual men, transgender or nonbinary individuals, it is certainly advisable to schedule a shot. Furthermore, if you believe you might be exposed in similar circumstances, or if you have had more than one sex partner or a new diagnosis of a sexually transmitted disease in the past six months, the vaccines could be helpful.

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How to schedule a COVID, monkeypox or flu vaccine in northeast PA

One of the easiest ways to schedule a vaccine for any condition is to contact your primary care physician. However, there are other options available, just in case you cannot set an appointment.

Starting Oct. 1, LVHN will begin their free drive-thru flu shot clinics. To sign up, go to the LVHN flu shot website.Pharmacies including Rite Aid, CVS, and Walgreens are also offering flu shots. Appointments can be scheduled on their respective websites as well.

You can also set up a COVID shot through those same pharmacy portals, or you can find a booster or any other COVID vaccine by visiting the Vaccines.gov website.

While patients seeking flu or COVID vaccines may either schedule appointments online or simply walk in to some providers, the monkeypox vaccine is more difficult to obtain. The DOH recommends consulting your primary care physician to see if they offer the monkeypox vaccine, or contacting 877-PA-HEALTH to find a location.

This article originally appeared on Pocono Record: How to schedule a COVID, monkeypox or flu vaccine in the Poconos