SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – The Salt Lake County Health Department (SLCOHD) is urging the public to get immunized and to protect themselves against respiratory illnesses, saying there is no better time to do so than now.

With the holiday season upon us, health officials say to get a flu shot as well as make sure you’re up to date on your COVID booster.

Officials point to respiratory illness as a main concern: “Older adults are particularly susceptible to serious illness from both COVID and influenza, so health officials strongly encourage people over 65—and those who will be around them—to get vaccinated before the holidays, when respiratory illness cases typically start to rise.”

Health officials say that flu season typically runs from October to May, with the peak around early January. Dr. Angela C. Dunn, SLCOHD executive director, states, “We really start to see an increase of cases after the holidays when people have been to a lot of parties and family get-togethers. That’s why we recommend getting vaccinated now, so people can be fully protected by the time the holidays arrive.”

Dunn added that Salt Lake County is seeing elevated levels of respiratory illness due to COVID, influenza, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). While there is currently no vaccine for RSV, people can “dramatically reduce their risk for hospitalization due to two of the three viruses circulating,” according to SLCOHD.

“To limit the spread of RSV, we have to rely on good hand hygiene and staying home when we are unwell,” says Dunn. “But in the seasonal flu vaccine and the current COVID booster we have a very effective prevention tool for those two potentially serious illnesses.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), much of the U.S. population is at increased risk from serious COVID or influenza complications, either because of their age or because they have a medical condition like asthma, diabetes, heart conditions or because they are pregnant.

For example, nearly 70% percent of people 55 to 64 have at least one chronic medical condition that puts them at increased risk of serious complications from a respiratory illness. Similarly, all children younger than 5 years old — especially children younger than 2 — and all adults 65 years of age and older are at increased risk of serious flu-related complications, SLCOHD states in a release.

But even healthy children and adults can suffer seriously from the flu. The CDC reports that for the 2019 – 2020 influenza season, 57% of children who died from influenza complications did not have a pre-existing medical condition.

COVID vaccine and boosters and influenza vaccine are available from the Salt Lake County Health Department, as well as in many doctor’s offices, community health clinics, pharmacies and other health care providers.

To schedule a vaccine appointment at a SLCOHD clinic, call 385-468-SHOT (7468). Here is another resource for vaccines outside of the health department.