WYPR's health reporter got a ‘flooster’ and doctors say Marylanders should too, amid vaccine fatigue
Editor's Note: WYPR’s health reporter Scott Maucione wrote this story about his own experience of getting his own flooster vaccinations. Click on the audio above to listen.
I’ve never been a fan of needles. In fact, when movies show someone getting a needle stuck in their arm, I usually have to look away.
So, every year when I know I need to get my flu shot, I always dread it.
This year, though, is different. I have to get two shots. Another side effect of the coronavirus pandemic is that, at least for now, medical professionals are recommending most people get their flu shot and a COVID-19 booster.
That’s especially important now that experts are warning about a “triple-demic” of COVID-19, RSV and the flu that is already stressing medical staff and pushing hospitals to the limit of staff capacity to care for patients.
Many in the medical community are calling this double shot the “flooster.” One shot protects against this year’s flu strain and the other is the bivalent COVID-19 booster, which protects against recent variants like Omicron, B.A. 5 and XBB 1.5.
“You can almost think of a booster shot like getting up to date,” said Dr. David Marcozzi, chief clinical officer at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “A vaccine is just the pill you need, or the treatment you need to maintain your protection. To stay protected, you need to stay up to date. And to stay up to date requires you to go into either your pharmacist or your primary care doctor and get those vaccinations.”
I decided to take Marcozzi's advice and dragged myself to my doctor’s office which sits in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood in midtown of Baltimore City.
I was nervous. My blood pressure was up, but I stuck it out – pun intended – and got my shots.
It wasn’t the worst. That evening my arms were sore and achy.
In the middle of the night I woke up with some chills and fever-like symptoms, but nothing an over-the-counter medication couldn’t handle.
By the evening of the next day I was back in regular shape and good for another year.
However, not many Marylanders are going out and getting the vaccines this year. The state had a more than 91% vaccination rate for the original COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Maryland Department of Health.
But, those numbers have dwindled. Last year, fewer than half the state population got vaccine boosters, according to the state health department.
This year is not much better.
About 1.2 million Maryland residents have gotten their bivalent COVID-19 vaccinations, out of 6.1 million people statewide.
Flu vaccination rates are down too, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the state average in Maryland is roughly 50% for flu shots, about 45% have done so this year.
One primary care doctor who works for an independent non-profit community organization which has long served the LGBTQ community in Mt. Vernon, Chase Brexton Health Care said that people are just tired of vaccines.
“I know, we all wish the pandemic was gone, no one wants to be dealing with this still, but the reality is that we probably are going to be for a while,” Dr. Jessica Friedman, a doctor for Chase Brexton Health Care. “It's constantly changing, and it's a lot to keep up with. And I know plenty of people would just rather not keep up with it.”
That’s a problem though because it could put a strain on emergency health services.
Children’s hospitals are already full of kids with RSV, so more people stressing the system with diseases that could be made less severe by vaccines leaves less beds for people with other diseases.
“The proportion of visits to Maryland sentinel outpatient providers for respiratory illnesses was 4.4%, which is above the Maryland baseline of 2.1%,” according to the Maryland Department of Health’s dashboard.
Statewide, more than two dozen people have already died, according to state officials. There are still 825 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and 64 people are in the hospital battling RSV, state data shows.