Dr. Rai encourages flu shots, COVID boosters ahead of winter season

Published: Oct. 18, 2022 at 7:30 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Prevea President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai is encouraging people to get flu shots ahead of what could be a difficult season. Health experts have been looking at the flu season in the southern hemisphere to get an idea of what we should expect in the United States. Australia had its worst flu season in the past five years.

Dr. Rai visited Action 2 News This Morning to talk about flu season, vaccines and COVID-19 boosters.

FLU SEASON

“There’s a lot of reasons why we’re worried it could be worse. Number one, we’ve looked at what’s going on in the southern hemisphere. That’s not always a full correlation of what’s going to happen in the northern hemisphere, but it’s a bad warning sign. We saw a really bad flu season in the southern hemisphere that would include Australia, South Africa, those areas, and that correlates to what’s going to happen here. It looked like a bad season. There’s a couple reasons why. This year, we’re probably not as in tune to preventing a virus from spreading as we have in the past couple years. People in the past have stayed home when they’re sick, they’re not going to be masking like they were in the last couple years, so that’s concerning. And after two years of doing really good in preventing viral spread, including flu, some of that general immunity in the community is down a little bit. You combine all of that plus all you saw in the southern hemisphere, we’re really worried about a bad flu season this year.

“Right now our disease activity here in Wisconsin, especially in Brown County, is really low, only a handful of cases in terms of flu. So this is the time to get your influenza vaccine so you’re protected. When we usually see our peaks--December, January, February, March even, now is the time to get your flu shot so we have much less of a flu season and a lot of lives could get saved if getting your flu shot.

“Nothing’s really changed about the flu vaccine except we update it every year. Hopefully we have a good one coming out here. Hopefully we’ll be protected. But we’ll only be protected if that shot gets in the arm.”

COVID BOOSTER

“We call it the bivalent booster so it’s protecting against the COVID strain that we’ve known and the COVID strain that we know is spreading very rapidly right now--that BA.4 AND BA.5 Omicron subvariants. Bottom line, it’s a tailored booster that’s going to protect us.

“There’s a great article actually by the Commonwealth Foundation out of Yale that said if 80 percent of Americans got the booster that they should be getting right now then we could save 90,000 lives. If 50 percent of people got it we could save 75,000 lives. That’s a lot of people and a lot of lives. It also should be telling us that not only will we be saving lives, but preventing long COVID in a lot more people, preventing hospitalizations in a lot of people, so getting the booster that you’re due for is really important right now. And you can do it with your flu shot.”

LONG COVID

“,It’s unfortunate. You think you’re perfectly healthy and you get COVID--most people do really really well--and we probably all know somebody who’s done really, really well. But we also know somebody who’s had long COVID effects--the brain fog, the continuous headaches, the tiredness, the reduced exercise capacity. And those with underlying medical conditions, diabetes, heart disease, are doing even worse. I think it’s really important to understand that once again, we always talk about preventing death, which we should be talking about, but it’s preventing everything else that these booster shots will help us with.

“Five and up should be getting the booster. If you’re two months out from your last COVID shot--so if you just finished the primary series, you’re a little late getting it, but you got it, thank you for doing that, then it’s two months after that second shot, or two months after the last time you had a booster. Now if you’ve recently had COVID you may consider waiting 90 days because you’ll have some immunity since that first symptom occurred. But if you have underlying health problems, such as diabetes, or say you’re on a medical for Crohn’s diseased, or something that’s going to affect your immune system, it’s really important to have a conversation with your physician because you may consider doing it earlier.”