3 Things to Know About the 2023–2024 COVID-19 Season
It has been more than three years since the pandemic first changed life as we know it, and while we’re no longer wiping down groceries and staying six feet apart, one thing remains clear: COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. According to the CDC, COVID-19 is on the rise again as of late August – Wastewater monitoring suggests a recent rise in infections in parts of the U.S., and hospitalizations have increased 24% in a two-week period.¹ The urge to put COVID-19 behind us is something we can all relate to. But, in the face of rapidly circulating new variants, we know better than to ignore what’s around the corner as we head into the fall and winter seasons.
The good news? We’re in a much better place than years past, now well equipped with the tools and knowledge needed to combat COVID-19. The availability of mRNA-based vaccines, combined with other proactive steps, can help us successfully navigate the upcoming season with minimal disruption and protect vulnerable populations from severe illness.
1. Fall Marks the Start of This Year’s Annual Vaccination Season
In past years, we’ve seen spikes in COVID-19 cases occur during the fall and winter months, with the 2022/2023 season marked by a “tripledemic” of COVID-19, flu and RSV that overwhelmed hospitals across the globe.² Experts anticipate that the 2023–2024 season could follow suit.³
So how do we prepare for this expected influx of cases?
As we move into a world where COVID-19 is a closely monitored health threat instead of a pressing emergency, we need to make sure we’re taking the right steps to protect our health. Updated vaccination this fall is one of the most powerful ways to do just that. Data has shown that vaccine protection for COVID-19 wanes over time, prompting the need for staying up to date on seasonal vaccination, especially as new variants of concern emerge.⁴ Updated COVID-19 vaccines will be widely available at convenient pharmacy and clinic locations across the country this fall, and according to the CDC, may be given at the same time as seasonal flu vaccines.⁵
2. Updated COVID-19 Vaccines Will Target Dominant Strains
Viruses like COVID-19 are constantly changing and mutating to survive. As COVID-19 evolves, the tools we use to fight it need to evolve too.
In June of this year, members of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) unanimously voted in favor of updated COVID-19 vaccines targeting the XBB.1.5 variant, which is one of the dominant circulating strains during this fall’s vaccination season.⁶ Since this decision, other variants of concern have developed, namely EG.5, FL 1.5.1 and BA.2.86.⁷⁻⁸ The good news is updated COVID-19 vaccines have been in development for months in anticipation for peak respiratory virus season, aiming to protect the public against COVID-19’s emerging threats.
3. Vulnerable Populations Continue to Face Severe Outcomes from COVID-19 and Flu
Throughout the pandemic, certain populations – such as older adults, immunocompromised individuals, and those with certain chronic health conditions like respiratory disease, heart disease or diabetes – faced a greater risk of serious disease and long-term impact from COVID-19.⁹⁻¹⁰ This still rings true today. As we send our children back to school, spend more time indoors as the weather cools, and approach a holiday season full of travel and large gatherings, this population will be at an increased risk for infection for both COVID-19 and the flu.
Vaccination continues to be one of the best ways to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 and to provide protection against serious illness and death. If you’re over 60, immunocompromised, or have other chronic health issues, consider talking to your healthcare provider about getting an updated COVID-19 vaccine along with your flu vaccine this fall.¹¹⁻¹²
Protecting Yourself This COVID-19 Season
While COVID-19 may be here to stay, we want to ensure we never go back to the worst of it. Understanding your risk and staying up to date on your vaccinations as we head into respiratory virus season are key ways to contribute to slowing the spread.