Dr. Michael Ison, professor of infectious disease and organ transplantation at Northwestern University, provided updated information on a COVID-19 vaccine timeline and flu shot recommendations on Thursday, Sept. 17, during a virtual presentation hosted by Skyline Village Chicago, Forward Chicago and the PLOWS Council on Aging.
In the presentation, Ison said a vaccine would be issued in a phased approach that would prioritize high-risk individuals, including older adults, people with comorbid and underlying conditions and first responders and healthcare workers, in the initial phase. Phase 2 would focus on at-risk groups such as critical risk workers and individuals with a moderately higher risk of severe illness, phase 3 would provide the vaccine to young children and adults, and in phase 4, all U.S. residents who had not received the vaccine in previous phases would be vaccinated.
Ison estimated it would take about four months for the at-risk population to be fully vaccinated following the release of a vaccine in late 2020 or early 2021, adding that it would likely take between six to nine months for the entire U.S. population to be vaccinated.
Ison encouraged older adults to consider participating in Northwestern's COVID-19 vaccine trials, which give priority to high-risk populations such as individuals with underlying medical conditions, adults over 65 and essential workers. Interested participants can sign up online at www.coronaviruspreventionnetwork.org.
He told seniors it was important to continue visiting the doctor and seeking needed medical treatment, noting that in many cases, delaying medical care can be riskier than coming into the hospital.
"I have been coming to the hospital every day — I feel incredibly safe here in the healthcare setting," he said.
Additionally, he stressed the importance of using masks, especially in indoor settings, and continuing to take safety measures such as washing hands, social distancing and using hand sanitizer.
Ison also urged members of the public to get a flu shot this fall, noting health officials currently recommend all individuals 6 months and older receive the vaccine. In addition to preventing cases of the flu, the flu shot provides a reduced risk of severe illness and hospitalization and death, as well as a reduction in cardiovascular outcomes for individuals in cardiac patients, he said.
Ison recommended two specific vaccine options for seniors: the high dose quadravalent influenza vaccine and adjuvanted quadravalent influenza vaccine.
"The efficacy in terms of antibody response is similar between the two, so either one, I think, for older adults, would be fine," he said. "There's just a little bit more data with the high-dose vaccine in terms of added benefit in preventing hospitalization and death compared to the adjuvanted vaccine. That's why I personally prefer the high dose."