October 31, 2022

Expert advice for winter vaccines, variants, and viruses

As colder weather and rain arrive in Oregon, Katie Sharff, MD, an infectious disease specialist, shares why vaccines are now more important than ever.

Vaccine technology proved safe and effective at preventing severe illness during the COVID-19 pandemic. And now, during the colder fall and winter months, vaccinations will continue to protect families from flu and other viruses.

“In the past couple of years, we have learned a lot about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and antiviral treatments,” says Katie Sharff, MD, chief of infectious disease for Kaiser Permanente in Portland, Oregon.

Dr. Sharff explains how these preventive treatments are still the best ways to protect yourself — and your family, friends, and community — from flu and COVID-19 this winter.

Why is it important to get vaccinated at this time of the year?

Based on infection rate data from the Southern Hemisphere, health experts are expecting an extreme flu season this winter. And, as more people spend time indoors, other respiratory viruses are more likely to spread and cause illness.

To protect yourself this winter, get your flu shot. And, when you are getting your flu shot, you can get your updated COVID-19 booster, which has been designed to better target newer variants and the most prevalent omicron variants. And a reminder: It is completely safe to get both vaccines at the same time.

Why is it important to check that you and your family are up to date on your immunizations?

Many children fell behind with routine immunizations during the pandemic. With cooler weather and more indoor time, now is the perfect time to check in with your doctor and make sure you and your child are up to date on all immunizations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that people age 5 and older get an updated (or bivalent) COVID-19 booster for better protection against the most prevalent omicron variants. These variants are currently causing most COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and are predicted to continue to circulate this fall and winter.

How has research advanced our understanding of vaccines?

We will continue to see an evolution of new COVID-19 variants, as well as the emergence of new viruses and infections. But with advances in medical technology, such as the mRNA vaccines, we have powerful tools to manage these diseases and minimize their impact.

During the pandemic, Kaiser Permanente doctors and researchers were involved in the initial research for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. And we were able to help demonstrate both the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine against COVID-19.

Kaiser Permanente teams were also involved in multiple studies, including a study on remdesivir, an antiviral for COVID-19, which has also proven to be extremely effective. Our doctors and researchers are still contributing to multiple evolving therapies to treat COVID-19 and other viruses.

According to Dr. Sharff, we are so fortunate to have this amazing vaccine technology for evolving viruses, such as flu and COVID-19 — both of which could be circulating at the same time this winter.

Learn more and find vaccine appointments at kp.org/covidvaccine and kp.org/flu.