To help members of the Japanese American community get the facts from trusted sources, The Rafu Shimpo recently posed your questions about COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Dr. Yasuko Fukuda, a San Francisco-based pediatrician who serves as chair of American Academy of Pediatrics California.
You can view all Dr. Fukuda’s responses in video clips here: https://bit.ly/DrFukuda, but we’ve summarized her top answers below.
Rafu Shimpo: What should we be prepared for this winter and as we approach the holidays with family and friends?
Dr. Fukuda: Winter virus season is here, and pediatric hospitalizations are on the rise. Seasonal flu, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and COVID-19 activity are increasing throughout California. Flu and RSV levels are higher than usual for this time of year, especially among children, and are culminating in an increase in hospitalizations, emergency department visits, and deaths.
Rafu Shimpo: What is RSV and what are the symptoms?
Dr. Fukuda: RSV or Respiratory Syncytial Virus is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in infants and a cause of severe disease in adults older than age 65 years. People with RSV infection typically have fever, cough, wheezing and runny nose. Infants and young children may be irritable, lethargic, feed poorly and have no fever.
There are no vaccines yet to prevent RSV infections, so the California Department of Public Health strongly recommends getting the seasonal influenza and COVID-19 vaccine to help protect Californians from getting multiple illnesses at one time or one after another.
Rafu Shimpo: How can we protect our children from winter viruses and reduce the risk of illness?
Dr. Fukuda: Here are my tips to protect your children, yourself and others from severe illness and hospitalization caused by COVID, RSE or the flu:
• Get vaccinated, boosted. Flu and COVID-19 vaccines continue to be your best defense to limit severe illness and death – and you can get both at the same time.
• Stay home if you’re sick. It’s crucial to stay home if you are feeling ill. Avoid close contact with others to protect them, and take the time you need to heal. This is especially important for respiratory viruses like the flu, RSV and COVID-19, which can lead to more severe illness.
• Wear a mask. Wearing a mask in indoor public places is a good way to limit the spread of germs. To get the most out of your mask, pick one with good fit and filtration. The rule-of-thumb is surgical masks are good, KN95 or KN94 masks are better, and N95 are best.
• Wash your hands. Frequent handwashing, with soap and warm water — for at least 20 seconds — is an easy way to protect against getting sick and spreading germs.
• Cover your cough or sneeze. Remember to cough or sneeze into your elbow, your arm, or a disposable tissue to help prevent the spread of winter viruses. Just make sure to wash your hands or sanitize and dispose of your tissue after.
Rafu Shimpo: What is the new updated booster and why was it developed?
Dr. Fukuda: The updated boosters are formulated to protect against the original coronavirus strain while also targeting currently circulating variants like Omicron that has spread so widely this year. They have been approved by the FDA after rigorous discussion about safety and effectiveness.
Rafu Shimpo: How does the updated booster work?
Dr. Fukuda: These vaccines work by teaching our immune system to make an antibody against a piece of a “spike protein,” which is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. The genetic material delivered by mRNA vaccines never enters the nucleus of your cells, which is where your DNA is kept, so it cannot alter our DNA.
Rafu Shimpo: Are the updated boosters safe and how would you address the long-term safety concerns?
Dr. Fukuda: Yes. Researchers have been studying mRNA vaccines for decades. mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have been held to the same rigorous safety and effectiveness standards as all other types of vaccines in the United States.And the CDC confirmed that the current COVID-19 bivalent boosters trigger a stronger immune response, resulting in higher levels of antibodies to fight off infection.
Rafu Shimpo: Is it safe for infants and children to get both the flu and the COVID booster other vaccines at the same time?
Dr. Fukuda: Yes, and it is highly recommended that you stay up-to-date with your children’s scheduled shots. It’s safe and convenient.
Rafu Shimpo: Who is eligible for this updated booster and when can they get it?
Dr. Fukuda: Just in time for the holidays, the bivalent dose is now authorized for infants and toddlers 6 months of age and older, meaning the whole family can get an updated vaccine. Talk to a doctor, your local clinic or visit http://MyTurn.ca.gov to ensure everyone in your family is up-to-date on their vaccine series and best protected before the season’s celebrations.
Rafu Shimpo: What if someone already had COVID? Should they still get this updated booster?
Dr. Fukuda: Yes. Everyone eligible to get the booster is strongly encouraged to get the updated booster.
Rafu Shimpo: You have a unique perspective on the pandemic as an expert on how COVID is being addressed in Japan. As Japanese Americans, what can we learn from Japan’s approach to the pandemic and how Japanese families practice COVID safety?
Dr. Fukuda: The approach between Japan and the U.S. is very similar – the idea of masking, being safe by not going out when you’re sick and washing your hands has been promoted in Japan as well. While the habit of masking during the wintertime has already been common in Japan for many years and there are differences in Japanese and American healthcare system deliveries, the concern about safety is very similar.
The message that vaccines are safe, effective and are the best way to protect ourselves and our families is the same message in both countries. As a community, Japanese and Japanese Americans value holiday gatherings so the best way to keep everyone safe is to get vaccinated.
Rafu Shimpo: With the holidays fast approaching, how can people celebrate safely?
Dr. Fukuda: Keep yourself and your loved ones safe by staying current with vaccinating and boosting. Vaccinating family members, including children, will protect those who are vulnerable – especially the elderly – so we can have the multigenerational family gatherings that are so enjoyed. It’s also important to visit and talk to your doctor often and to keep health check-ups going into the winter season. Talk to your doctor, go to MyTurn.ca.gov or call 833-422-4255 to find a vaccine or booster near you.