Be prepared: Surge of winter sickness likely on its way, city’s top doc says

If you haven’t had your COVID-19 fall 2022 booster, now is the time, Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.

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Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady received a COVD-19 booster Tuesday at a CVS pharmacy on the South Side; she urged others to do the same.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady received a COVD-19 booster Tuesday at a CVS pharmacy on the South Side. She urged others to do the same.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

With the worst of the winter illnesses not yet upon us, the city’s top public health official is urging residents to make sure they’re fully vaccinated.

And Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady issued a warning Tuesday: “My biggest concern is that it’s only November, and RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] has already come and hit us hard. … If we see a significant surge — and we will see some surge, no doubt — of flu and of COVID on top of that, particularly for kids, we may run out of good hospital capacity.”

In recent weeks, local children’s hospitals have been reporting unusually long wait times at emergency rooms, driven in large part by a surge in respiratory sicknesses. Doctors have been warning of the possibility this winter of a “tri-epidemic” of flu, COVID-19 and RSV.

There is no vaccine for RSV, which has early symptoms similar to a common cold — runny nose, decreased activity and appetite. RSV sometimes leads to a wheezing cough and problems breathing.

But there are vaccines for flu and COVID-19. On Tuesday at a CVS pharmacy on the South Side, Arwady rolled up her sleeve and got her fall 2022 COVID-19 booster.

She reminded reporters that at this time last year, COVID-19 cases were surging, and by December 2021, about 10,000 Chicagoans a day were being diagnosed with the disease, compared with almost 400 per day over the past week.

“The main reason that we have made that progress is COVID-19 vaccines. They are safe, they are effective, but it’s important that you stay up to date.” she said.

Vaccines are also free and widely available, she said.

“We will even bring them to your house at a time that is convenient for you if you live anywhere in Chicago,” she said.

For those suffering from vaccine fatigue or those who wonder about the safety of having so many doses in the space of two or three years, Arwady said: “We have done so much vaccinating that I’m extraordinarily confident this is safe. … This is the most studied vaccine ever.”

She said she envisions a time soon when COVID-19 vaccines are given annually, much like flu shots, and perhaps in one dose.

For information about setting up an at-home vaccination in the city, call (312) 746-4835. For other help finding a shot, visit vaccines.gov.

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