As the world continues to grapple with the challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, recent spikes in cases have raised concerns among many health professionals, including pharmacists. Furthermore, COVID-19 isn’t the only thing increasing as there has also been a spike in cases of influenza (Flu) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), making it crucial for pharmacies to be well-informed and prepared. In this blog, we will explore what pharmacies should know about the recent surge in COVID-19, the co-occurrence of flu and RSV, and the significance of vaccinations and testing in controlling these infections.
COVID-19 in 2023
The recent summer surge in COVID-19 cases, although not as significant as previous summers, is definitely still something to be aware of. According to the CDC, there is a 12.1% increase in COVID-related hospitalizations in just the last week. One of the reasons for a rise in cases during summer, specifically, might be that people get together indoors when the weather is very hot. The CDC also states, all existing variants are offshoots of the Omicron strain, with EG.5 causing about 17% of new COVID-19 cases in the country.
With this recent increase in COVID cases heading into back-to-school and cold and flu season, pharmacists play a pivotal role in keeping their communities informed about the latest guidelines, preventive measures, and available vaccinations.
Flu & RSV in 2023
“We’re going to have three bugs out there, three viruses: COVID, of course, flu and RSV,” Cohen said in an interview. “We need to make sure the American people understand all three and what they can do to protect themselves.”
Dr. Mandy Cohen, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
During 2022-2023, flu and RSV were part of a “tripledemic,” alongside COVID-19. Surges of RSV cases in the United States occurred much earlier than usual, starting in late fall 2022 instead of midwinter. This shift was likely influenced by a combination of factors, including the reduction in COVID-19 mitigation measures like masking, which had previously helped decrease infections in other seasons. Additionally, patients infected with one virus may be more susceptible to contracting others, leading to overlapping symptoms and challenges in accurately diagnosing. Pharmacists should be vigilant in identifying potential cases and advising appropriate testing and measures to prevent further spread.
Vaccinating For Respiratory Viruses in 2023
Vaccination remains the most potent tool in combating severe illness from these viruses. Pharmacies have played a significant role in administering COVID-19 vaccines, and should continue encouraging eligible individuals to get vaccinated. Additionally, patients should continue to be educated on the Flu and RSV vaccines as they can help reduce the strain on healthcare systems and minimize the severity of infections among patients.
Per the CDC, everyone 6 years of age and older should get 1 updated Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve received any of the original COVID-19 vaccines.
For flu vaccinations, September and October continue to be the best times for most people to get vaccinated, however, the CDC does have recommendations for those who should get vaccinated in July and August. Also, the main change in the 2023-2024 flu vaccine recommendations is related to administering the vaccine to people with egg allergies. Per the CDC, the ACIP voted that people with egg allergy may receive any flu vaccine (egg-based or non-egg based) that is otherwise appropriate for their age and health status and no additional safety measures are recommended.
In May of 2023, U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Arexvy, the first respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine approved for use in the United States. Arexvy is approved for the prevention of lower respiratory tract disease caused by RSV in individuals 60 years of age and older. Another vaccine that is coming soon is Nirsevimab, which will be sold under the brand name Beyfortus and will be available for infants in 2023.
Testing and Early Detection
Early detection and isolation are crucial in controlling the spread of COVID-19, flu, and RSV. Pharmacies can contribute to testing efforts by offering COVID-19 testing services, promoting regular testing for high-risk individuals, and ensuring accessible point of care testing options for all three of these respiratory viruses.
Collaborating with Healthcare Providers
Pharmacists are integral members of the healthcare team, and collaboration with other healthcare providers is crucial during these times. Maintain open communication with local health departments, clinics, and hospitals to share information and coordinate efforts in managing the surge in cases.
Supporting Pharmacists With Digital Tools
As the role of pharmacists in COVID-19 vaccine administration continues to be crucial, its imperative pharmacies are leveraging technology so they can focus on their patients. Here are a few digital tools that can help support your staff as you work to combat this surge.
Vow Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
More vaccines and testing appointments mean more patient inquiries and inbound calls. Vow IVR simplifies call volume management, helping you filter and direct incoming phone calls so your staff can focus on providing quality patient care.
With so many patients looking to connect with healthcare providers online, your staff may be overrun with requests for online information and solutions. Digital Pharmacist’s branded health sites provide a secure, digital space for you to share important updates and offer pharmacy services, like vaccination inventory and point of care testing availability.
Within our Patient Engagement Platform, our vaccination scheduler helps pharmacy teams manage and schedule vaccination appointments online, send reminders, and facilitate hands-free check-in from a single platform. During a peak time like this where appointments are needed, having a tool to seamlessly assist with scheduling is imperative.
Secure Two-Way Messaging
Our data-encrypted platform keeps communication secure and HIPAA-compliant. And with bulk and targeted two-way messaging capabilities, you can send mass scheduling notifications, start individual conversations, and answer healthcare questions.
To learn more about Digital Pharmacist’s digital engagement solutions request your free software demo today.