Quick Takes

How to protect against new COVID-19 variants as holiday gatherings near

By: - November 6, 2023 11:47 am

People who get COVID-19 shots may experience flu-like symptoms afterward. That’s normal, says Dr. Hugh Shoff, and it’s a “good thing.” (Getty Images)

New COVID-19 booster shots are available around the state as new strains of the virus cause more people to contract it, but not necessarily get severely ill.

Dr. Hugh Shoff, the associate chief medical officer of UofL Health’s UofL Hospital in Louisville, said Monday that the holiday season puts people at greater risk of catching flu-like illnesses.

“We were all just doing Halloween, now we’re going to get together for Thanksgiving and then get together for Christmas, or the holidays whatever it might be,” he said. “We are all together in close proximity so the spread becomes greater just because of how we’re all together.”

COVID-19 spreads when people inhale infected droplets or transfer infected particles from their hands to their mouths, eyes, or nose. Being in rooms that aren’t well ventilated is a risk factor.

The two main variants in circulation as of Oct. 28 were EG.5 — sometimes called “Eris” — and HV.1, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracking data. Together these variants represent nearly half of all COVID-19 cases in the United States.

To find a booster, search by ZIP code here.

Meanwhile, here’s what to know about the new shots:

How long after having COVID should I wait to get my booster?

Dr. Hugh Shoff, the associate chief medical officer of UofL Health’s UofL Hospital in Louisville. (screenshot)

People who have had a recent COVID-19 infection should wait to get their booster until they no longer have symptoms, Shoff said.

“If you’re outside the window of your symptoms and you’re feeling better, usually you can go ahead and get the COVID booster at that time,” Shoff said.

The CDC says people may consider waiting for three months after an infection to get their booster.

But, Shoff said, the shots are not less effective if people get them sooner than that.

What does it mean if I get sick from my vaccine?

People who get COVID-19 shots may experience flu-like symptoms afterward. That’s normal, Shoff said, and it’s a “good thing.”

“You’re not getting COVID from the vaccine,” Shoff explained. “What’s happening is your body’s mounting a response. It gets inflamed, you start making antibodies, your body kind of kicks into overdrive because the vaccines are telling you to do that.”

While having those reactions, he said, drink a lot of water and take Tylenol or ibuprofen for body aches and fevers.

Do I need the new booster if I already got one last year?

The short answer is yes.

“The idea with the new vaccines (is) almost like the flu,” Shoff said. “What they’ve done the past couple of years now is take a look at the new variants that are out there and formulate the vaccine to allow your body to create the antibodies to attack the new variants and the new COVID variants are out there.”

Doctors and public health experts have pointed to the annual flu vaccines as an example of what the future with COVID-19 mitigation looks like.

“Even though you may have gotten the first two (shots),” Shoff said of the COVID boosters, “we have new variants out there that the first two really didn’t address.”

He added, “now that we have changes in the virus, it’s time to change the vaccine to teach your body to (make) new antibodies for that new variant.”


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Sarah Ladd
Sarah Ladd

Sarah Ladd is a Louisville-based journalist from West Kentucky who's covered everything from crime to higher education. She spent nearly two years on the metro breaking news desk at The Courier Journal. In 2020, she started reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and has covered health ever since. As the Kentucky Lantern's health reporter, she focuses on mental health, LGBTQ+ issues, children's welfare, COVID-19 and more.