Last year’s “triple-demic” marked the beginning of what may be a new normal: a confluence of respiratory infections — RSV, influenza, and covid-19 — will surge as the weather cools each year.
Like blizzards, the specific timing and severity of these outbreaks are hard to forecast. But their damage can be limited in more ways than ever before. More protective vaccines against influenza are on the horizon. And new vaccines against respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, were approved this year, as were updated covid vaccines. Although the first days of rollout for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines saw hiccups, with short supplies at some pharmacies and billing confusion with some insurers, the shots now are generally available at no cost.
What’s more, after enduring the worst pandemic in a century, people are more attuned to protecting themselves and those around them. Wearing face masks and staying home when sick can stop the spread of most respiratory infections. The rate of flu vaccinations has climbed over the past five years.
“It seems like the pandemic reminded them of how important vaccination is,” said Brian Poole, a microbiologist at Brigham Young University in Utah. In a study of college students, Poole and other researchers found that flu vaccination rates have nearly tripled since 2007, from 12% to 31% in the respiratory infection season of 2022-23. Only a minority of students expressed “vaccine fatigue.”
There is, however, one dangerous departure from the past. Vaccination has become politicized, with college students and older adults who iden …