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State health officials encourage residents to protect themselves from respiratory viruses

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) on Oct. 13 urged residents to protect themselves from respiratory viruses, even though data indicates COVID-19 hospitalizations are at a low level across the state.

According to the CDC’s national COVID Data Tracker, as of the week ending Sept. 30, the total number of hospitalizations for the week was at 566, down almost 14 percent from the previous week.  As fall begins, IDPH is continuing to closely monitor data on COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses including flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

“As the leaves begin to change and fall is in full swing, now is the best time to protect yourself and your loved ones from the three respiratory viruses that caused last year’s tripledemic,” said IDPH Director, Dr. Sameer Vohra.  

Last month, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended newly reformulated COVID-19 shots for everyone over the age of 6 months. The federal agencies have given the green light for updated mRNA vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer that target the currently circulating strains of the COVID-19 virus. They also have recently approved an updated Novavax COVID-19 vaccine.

These newly approved shots are considered safe when given at the same time as other vaccines for the flu and RSV.

IDPH has set up a mobile response team to respond and provide COVID-19 vaccination services for long term care facilities throughout the state.

Studies have consistently shown that COVID-19 vaccines lower the risk of getting symptomatic COVID-19 and improve protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death. Most Americans can still get a COVID-19 vaccine for free. For people with health insurance, most plans will cover the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost. People who don’t have health insurance or with health plans that do not cover the cost can get a free vaccine from their local health centers and pharmacies.

For those who are uninsured or under-insured, the CDC this summer launched the Bridge Access Program that will cover the cost of COVID-19 vaccines this fall. The Vaccines for Children Program will cover vaccines for eligible children.  

In June, the CDC’s ACIP recommended use of a single dose of RSV vaccine for persons 60 years of age and older. In August, ACIP also recommended a new preventive measure against RSV for infants under 8 months and toddlers at high risk, a new monoclonal antibody shot called nirsevimab. Data showed that the treatment was highly effective, reducing hospitalizations in the age group by 77 percent.

On Sept. 22, ACIP recommended seasonal administration of one dose of RSV vaccine during weeks 32 through 36 of pregnancy, to maximize protection for babies after birth.

For treatment of COVID-19, Illinoisans who experience symptoms can access no cost-share telehealth services through the SIU School of Medicine Covid Test to Treat services or call (217) 545-5100.

Illinois has more than 200,000 courses of effective therapeutic medications, including Paxlovid and Molnupiravir, available through providers and pharmacies that will continue to be provided free of charge until supplies run out.

The CDC recently launched a new national respiratory virus dashboard that allows the public to view the levels of COVID-19, flu and RSV in each state.

Additional resources and COVID-19 data can be found at https://dph.illinois.gov/covid19.html.

 The federal government has established a website that provides an all-purpose toolkit with information on how to obtain masks, treatment, vaccines and testing resources for all areas of the country at: https://www.covid.gov/.

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