JoCo on the Go Podcast: Vaccines and Respiratory Diseases

On episode #159 of JoCo on the Go, we take a look at seasonal respiratory diseases like flu, COVID-19 and RSV. We bring in local experts from the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment and Children’s Mercy Kansas City to discuss vaccines for these conditions, recommendations for who should receive them and where to find them so you can be prepared with the best recommendations on how to protect yourself.

We also cover the new weekly respiratory illness report available from the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. Visit our COVID-19 vaccine page and to get the latest information about COVID-19 vaccine availability in Johnson County.

JoCo on the Go Preview: Vaccines and Respiratory Diseases

Look for JoCo on the Go where you regularly listen to podcasts.


Time Subject
00:33 Introduction
02:18 Flu, COVID-19 and RSV vaccines
05:51 Vaccine recommendations for children
10:52 How to get your vaccines
13:28 Respiratory illness report


Andy Hyland 0:00 

As the fall season approaches, so too do increased cases of flu, RSV and COVID-19. Vaccines are available for all three of these conditions this season. And we'll talk to some local experts to get the latest information and recommendations for how to best protect yourself in the months ahead.

Announcer 0:18 

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Andy Hyland 0:33 

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Andy Hyland. I'm a Johnson County resident, and I work in public affairs of Johnson County Government. And we're here to talk about respiratory diseases, how to protect yourself and keep track of the latest data. We have three guests joining us to talk to us about that a bit today. First up is RaNae Allen, a nurse working for Johnson County Health and Environment. RaNae, welcome. And can you tell us a little bit about you and your role?

RaNae Allen 1:00 

You bet. I am the immunization program manager here. I'm a working manager, so I administer vaccines in addition to my supervisory duties.

Andy Hyland 1:09 

Very good. And we'll also talk about recommendations for children with Dr. Jennifer Schuster, an infectious disease specialist at Children's Mercy Hospital. So welcome, Dr. Schuster. And can you introduce yourself?

Dr. Jennifer Schuster 1:25 

Hi, Andy. Thanks for having me. I'm Jen Schuster. I'm a Pediatric Infectious Diseases physician at Children's Mercy Kansas City.

Andy Hyland 1:35 

Thank you. And also with us is Caitlin Kintner. She's an epidemiologist with Johnson County Health and Environment who's helping to put together a weekly respiratory disease report that tracks some information for our residents. So Caitlin, can you introduce yourself?

Caitlin Kintner 1:51 

Hi, thanks for having me. I'm Caitlin Kintner. I'm one of the epidemiologists here at the health department. I work primarily in our disease containment program.

Andy Hyland 2:02 

Thank you. So RaNae, let's start with you. There are three different vaccine recommendations we're kind of navigating this season. I know they're all a little bit different. So let's try and take them one at a time. And let's start maybe with flu. Who should get that flu shot and why?

RaNae Allen 2:18 

Okay, so everyone six months of age and older, with some rare exceptions, should get a flu shot every season. It's particularly important for people who are at high risk for serious complications from influenza infections. So that would include adults who are 65 years and older, adults with certain chronic health conditions, and women who are pregnant. You ask why get the flu shot? The flu vaccine actually prevents millions of illnesses and flu-related doctor visits each year. It can also reduce severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick. So fewer hospitalizations, too.

Andy Hyland 2:56 

Very good. And I just heard a little bit about...saw some news about a new COVID-19 shot that's also recommended now. So that's...even for those who may have received a vaccine or a booster or two already, there's a new shot. So why don't you talk about that recommendation too?

RaNae Allen 3:15 

Sure. So the newest one is covering the most circulating variant. So even if you had protection before, those vaccines' protection tends to wane. And so receiving an updated vaccine can restore that protection and provide better protection against that currently circulating strain.

Andy Hyland 3:39 

And I know a lot of people are getting those flu shots and those COVID-19 shots at the same time. And that's good and okay and recommended. Can you talk a little bit about whether you should get one or the other or both at the same time? What's recommended there?

RaNae Allen 3:52 

Sure. Yes, that is pretty common for people to get both, and it is safe to get them at the same time. One study did show that people are slightly more likely to have reactions, including fatigue, headache, muscle aches than people who only got a COVID-19 booster vaccine. But these reactions are mostly mild and went away pretty quickly.

Andy Hyland 4:14 

Very good, very good. The other diseases sort of I hear a little bit about floating out there is RSV. And I personally know a little bit less about RSV than those other two diseases. So maybe talk a little bit about what is RSV and who needs to be concerned about getting a shot for that as well.

RaNae Allen 4:32 

Sure. So RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus, and it's a common seasonal virus that usually causes mild cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two but RSV can be serious. Infants and older adults, including those with those certain underlying medical conditions, again, may have an increased risk for getting very sick from RSV. So there is the new RSV vaccine that helps protect adults 60 years and older from severe RSV illness. So if you are 60 years and older, you can talk to your healthcare provider to see if the RSV vaccination could benefit you.

Andy Hyland 5:10 

And is that another one you could stack on at the same time? Or is, I don't know how many vaccines you want to do at once. But how does that work with the other two?

RaNae Allen 5:19 

Right, you can, just like the other, though, you may experience some more of those symptoms afterwards.

Andy Hyland 5:28 

Very good. Let's bring in Dr. Schuster now to talk a little bit about specific recommendations about these vaccines for children. And so, you know, I think we talked a little bit about how many of them are recommended for folks six months and older. So how do recommendations differ for children as adults when it comes to these vaccines?

Dr. Jennifer Schuster 5:51 

Yeah, that's a great question. So I think maybe going in order make sense. So for flu vaccine, RaNae mentioned, so flu vaccine is recommended for every child who is six months of age or older. For kids who are younger than six months, flu vaccine doesn't provide great protection, which is why we wait until six months. And we really rely on pregnant people getting vaccinated during pregnancy and other family members getting vaccinated to protect our youngest infants who are at high risk for flu. So I'll put in a plug for adult vaccination for our youngest of children since they are too young to be vaccinated. But flu vaccine is recommended for every child who is six months of age or older. Some kids, if you're eight years and younger, will need two flu vaccines the very first time they get that flu vaccine. So for that very, very first season, but after that, they just need one just like our adults. So if it's your first time...if you're bringing your child to get the flu vaccine, and it's the first time that they've had one and they're eight years or younger, your doctor or the health department or wherever you're going might remind you that you that your child will need a second vaccine about a month later. But otherwise, they're recommended for everybody. So it's a really easy recommendation to remember. I think one thing that comes up a lot for kids, and this has changed over the years, but this year, the CDC says that if you have an egg allergy, you can get any influenza vaccine. And so previously, that was a concern from a lot of parents whose children had egg allergies. They had to make sure that they could get a certain vaccine or a specific one at a certain location. But CDC has changed, all flu vaccines are safe for kids with egg allergies. So that's great news, because it means that it's a little bit easier for our kids with allergies to get vaccines. So that's easy for influenza. For COVID, it's also recommended that every child who is six months of age or older get the new updated COVID vaccine. So, same one was mentioned before, that is most effective against the variant that's circulating right now. COVID vaccines have always been a little bit more complicated for our youngest of children, and they may need more immunizations, and they get different doses. And it varies a little bit more than in our adult friends. So I would recommend reaching out, ask your immunization provider, whether you're going to the health department or your pediatrician or your family practitioner, what what needs to happen and what vaccine your child needs to get. If your child has already received the COVID vaccine, though, maybe they got the bivalent one or the very original monovalent vaccine, they just need one updated vaccine. So pretty easy. But if you're just starting this series, it may be a little bit more complicated. So for parents to make sure that they asked how many their child needs. So that's the updates for COVID. So it's still kind of similar to adults. And then RSV is really a game changer for people who take care of kids this year. So RSV is the leading cause of hospitalization in young children. So as a pediatrician, seeing these vaccines come out is really going to make a big difference. So there's two products that are available. One is actually available for pregnant people, with the idea that the pregnant person gets vaccinated between 32 and 36 weeks, so towards the end of their pregnancy, and they pass their immunity on to protect baby, and so that's how baby is protected. So that is for pregnant people. And then the other product is called nirsevimab, and that is a monoclonal antibody. So it's basically giving immune protection to babies who are born. So all babies who are under eight months of age are eligible going into RSV season, which usually begins around October/November. So this is really, really exciting. We've never had protection like this for our youngest infants against RSV. And any pediatrician, anybody who works with children will tell you that RSV is a major cause of respiratory disease during the winter. So we're pretty excited to hopefully be seeing less children in the hospital from RSV this year.

Andy Hyland 10:24 

That's great. And I didn't know that about RSV. That's an interesting fact to know about children. So that sounds like really important information for people to know and share. I think one thing I want to talk about is tracking down the shots. I mean, I heard that COVID shots, especially for children, might be a little difficult to find. How do people get access to these shots, be it COVID or some other way? What's the best way?

Dr. Jennifer Schuster 10:52 

Great question. So I always tell people to reach out to their primary care provider. So whether that's your child's pediatrician, family practitioner, whoever your child sees for their regular checkups, I think that they are always your first start. The health department is a great resource for being able to help figure out where vaccines are being administered. And then Andy, you're right, one that we often hear that has been difficult to track down specifically is the COVID vaccine. If you go to, so pretty easy from a website, it's, you can enter your zip code, and you can enter the age of the person that you're looking to vaccinate. So you can specifically look for "I need a COVID vaccine for my three year old," and they will tell you who in the area is administering the vaccine, whether it's a retail pharmacy, or an FQHC, or the health department, they'll be able to steer parents in the right direction. So again, that's But I always recommend start with your child's primary care provider.

Andy Hyland 11:58 

Very good. RaNae, maybe you could talk a little bit about how that might differ or be the same for adults trying to track down the vaccines as well, any of these. Is there any other advice that would differ from that for adults to try and to track them down?

RaNae Allen 12:13 

I think she pretty much nailed it. Definitely easier for adults right now to find them. Johnson County Department of Health and Environment provides the flu vaccines for children and adults, the RSV vaccines for those age 60 and older, and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for ages six months and older for those who qualify for the CDCs Bridge Access Program, or the Vaccines for Children Program. Those are available at our walk-in clinics in Olathe and Mission. And we are still awaiting shipment for the COVID-19 vaccine for those with private health insurance. So we're trying to be patient, but it's a struggle.

Andy Hyland 12:52 

Yeah, and I know we're recording this on October 6. So that may change by the time we get it to air. But hopefully those will come along soon. Caitlin, I wanted to bring you in now. I know the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment is creating a new weekly report that's available on the website there. And we'll probably put that link to that report in the description of this podcast. But can you talk a little bit about why we're putting together that report, and who's it for and what's in it?

Caitlin Kintner 13:28 

Yeah, as we all know, there is a wide range of resources available online for data. And sometimes that's a lot of just, like, searching through and trying to find the right spot to get it. And then it's multiple pages, and you're having to go to different websites. So we thought it might be helpful to try to condense that and put it all in one report where we feel, like, we look at those data streams, and we are monitoring them. So we're trying to share what we're already monitoring. So we put it all in a report, and it does include COVID, flu and RSV right now. And so we're hoping that will be a little bit easier for the general public to look at and just see this snapshot in time.

Andy Hyland 14:16 

And how does this reporting differ from some other reporting that we may have seen earlier in the...especially in the COVID pandemic, where there's just a lot of data available? Go ahead.

Caitlin Kintner 14:26 

For sure. So how it kind of differs is, as we all know, in May, the public health emergency order ended. And so for COVID especially, this kind of decreased some of the data that was available to us, especially at a local level. But that being said, stuff started to come in to kind of fill in some of those gaps. And since everyone had a great interest in COVID, everyone also has a great interest in flu and RSV. And so some more data streams came in for that, as well as some new platforms. And again, we've tried to condense them to where they're all available in one place.

Andy Hyland 15:06 

And I think that that''ve talked a little bit about what kind of data this is, or just what specific information can people expect to find if they go to see this report?

Caitlin Kintner 15:18 

Yeah, so we do have some emergency room data, which is helpful for COVID and flu and RSV. You can actually see like what our emergency rooms are experiencing for those specific diseases, as well as we've got the hospitalization rate data from CDC on there, as well as wastewater data from Biobot. That's what's available right now. And we do hope in the future, and in the next coming weeks, as the vaccines come on board and everybody's getting them, we will actually have some vaccine data for flu and COVID. So we can actually see the uptake for Johnson County. So we're hopeful to include that as well. So in the next couple of weeks, you should be able to check back and see how Johnson County is doing on the uptake of the new COVID vaccine as well as flu. So we're hopeful for that.

Andy Hyland 16:09 

That's great. And it sounds like this report, at least from what I've seen of it as well, this really pulls together some county-level data. It's really, I think that's kind of the gap you're trying to fill. This was all kind of out there. But it was in different places of trying to pull together in one spot.

Caitlin Kintner 16:27 

Yeah it's all in different places. And you do have to dig a little bit for it. You have to do all the filtering, even when you get to the the landing page, you still have to go through the next steps of trying to filter down to Johnson County. And so I kind of took that that piece of the work out for the general public, so at least you can see it all in one place. And again, like I said, it's the data we're looking at, at the health department. We keep track of that data as well. And that's what we're looking at to see what the status is of the county. So it's the same things that we utilize and that we want to share and make people aware of.

Andy Hyland 17:00 

Very good, very good. Well, I appreciate all the information that you guys have shared today. I think it's really great. Really good for us to know and be aware of. I appreciate all of you coming on and sharing it with us.

RaNae Allen 17:13 

Thank you.

Dr. Jennifer Schuster 17:15 

Thank you.

Announcer 17:16 

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at jocogov. For more on this podcast, visit Thanks for listening.

Health and Environment