By: Savannah Scarborough, Follow South Jersey Intern
SOUTH JERSEY – Thanksgiving has passed, and the cold weather is officially here. It is time to take precautions for the holiday season by staying up to date with vaccines and preparing for other risks that come with respiratory illnesses currently circulating.
The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) urges everyone six months and older to get their annual flu shot and an updated COVID-19 booster when eligible. Respiratory illnesses, including Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV), rhinovirus, enterovirus, COVID-19, and the flu, are circulating the country. It is important to keep yourself and your loved ones safe during this time.
“As New Jerseyans begin to gather with friends and family for the upcoming holidays, it’s important for everyone to continue taking the necessary precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “Getting vaccinated when recommended, practicing good hand and respiratory hygiene, and staying home when sick are ways residents can work together to have a happier and healthier holiday season.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends individuals stay up to date with their COVID-19 shots respective for their specific age group. The CDC states that any individual older than six months is eligible for the COVID-19 primary series of shots. Those five years and older can receive the updated booster at least two months after their primary series or last monovalent booster.
RSV, a recent threat to children around the country, circulates from early fall to mid-spring and causes symptoms that resemble a common cold. However, in younger children and infants, RSV can cause wheezing, pneumonia, and sometimes an even more serious infection.
New Jersey is currently seeing an increase in young children and infants with infections in the upper airways and lungs due to rhinovirus and enterovirus, which can also result in wheezing and phenomena. Rhinovirus is the most common viral infection among humans and is the predominant cause of the common cold. Additionally, enterovirus is a genus of positive-sense single-stranded RNA viruses associated with many different human diseases that are typically transmitted through the intestine.
“Getting an annual flu shot will help protect everyone, particularly vulnerable residents such as younger children and older adults, from influenza,” said Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “The Department is monitoring these respiratory illnesses closely, and their impact on hospitals and Emergency Departments.”
If you or your child have any of the following symptoms, wheezing, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, ribs pulling in with each breath, very ill or drowsy, poor eating, dehydration, vomiting for more than 24 hours, or fever in children younger than 12 weeks, call your pediatrician or healthcare provider for help.
Other than staying up to date on all vaccines, it is important to take further precautions this holiday season. To stay safe, you can actively wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers multiple times a day, cough into your elbow or sleeve, and be careful who you come in contact with during this time. Individuals at high risk for severe illnesses should consider wearing high-quality and well-fitted masks, which tend to help reduce the spread of these respiratory illnesses.
Flu vaccinations prevent millions of illnesses and flu-related hospital visits each year. However, despite this data, only 57 percent of adults and 67.7 percent of children in New Jersey have received their flu shot.
Flu vaccination healthcare centers are available in New Jersey today. These offices and pharmacies are federally qualified health centers and local health departments. Most vaccines are covered by insurance or are given at a low cost.
COVID-19 vaccines are also available in New Jersey. Visit NJ Vaccine Appointment Finder or find a location near you or call the statewide COVID-19 Vaccine Call Center at (855-568-0545). The COVID-19 vaccine is free, regardless of insurance status.
“Vaccines have proven to be safe and effective,” said Commissioner Persichilli. “We urge all New Jerseyans to get up to date on all recommended vaccinations to ensure a safe and healthy holiday season. We especially encourage all New Jerseyans, ages 5 and older, to get the new updated booster to ensure the strongest protection against COVID-19 variants.”
The NJDOH’s Vaccine Preventable Disease Program (VPDP) works to help reduce the economic barriers to childhood vaccines that we continue to see in New Jersey. Through the Vaccines for Children program, which offers vaccines at no cost to eligible children through healthcare providers enrolled in the program, the VPDP hopes to bridge the economic barrier gap in the state. The VPDP also participates in the 317-funded adult program, which offers vaccines to uninsured and underinsured adults. To learn more about the VPDP, visit https://www.nj.gov/health/cd/vpdp.shtml.
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