susan bysiewicz vaccine
Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Nov. 9, 2023 Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Public health officials in Connecticut reminded residents to stay current with their seasonal vaccines Thursday as the state reported its first deaths of the viral disease season for both influenza and respiratory syncytial virus.

Two of the patients were between 80 and 90 years old, according to the Department of Public Health, which said the flu case occurred in a resident of Middlesex County while the RSV death involved someone from New Haven County. Later Thursday, the agency reported a second RSV-related death of a patient in their 60s from Hartford County.

News of the deaths coincided with a press conference at the public safety complex in East Hartford, where DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthani and Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz joined other officials in advising residents to receive their seasonal vaccines for flu, RSV, and COVID-19 ahead of this year’s holiday season.

“It’s not only just about protecting yourself from potentially getting really sick in the hospital or dying, it’s also about being able to be engaged with your family, with your life and not being out and sick for prolonged periods of time,” Juthani said.

Current vaccination guidelines call for everyone over the age of 6 months to receive an annual flu shot and updated COVID vaccine. Meanwhile, people 60 or older are eligible to take the RSV vaccine while the department recommends that infants 8 months or younger take a recently approved antibody known as Beyfortus as they enter their first RSV season. 

Although Juthani said Connecticut currently had adequate supply of the immunotherapy for newborns, she speculated supply may dwindle over the course of the colder season. She encouraged pregnant women to receive an RSV vaccine to ensure their infants are protected from the respiratory illness.

Dr. Manisha Juthani, state public health commissioner, during a press conference on Nov. 9, 2023 Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Last month, the state recorded 67 deaths related to COVID-19, according to the department. Hospitalizations related to COVID were roughly on par with numbers reported last year, Juthani said. 

But while COVID continues to represent a more serious burden on the state’s health care providers, current vaccination rates for the coronavirus lag far behind uptake of the influenza shot, she said. 

“My main message for everybody is that if you would normally get a flu vaccine, in the same way, I would recommend that you get a COVID vaccine,” Juthani said. “I recommended it for my family, I’ve recommended it for the entire spectrum of age for members of my family, again, because although it is our older adults and those with coexisting medical conditions that are most at risk, there is a benefit to being able to stay in work, stay in school.”

Bysiewicz received a COVID shot at a table inside the public safety building during Thursday’s press conference. Since the start of October, the state has recorded 208 flu cases, more than 1,700 COVID cases, and 730 RSV cases, the lieutenant governor said. 

“These kinds of seasonal illnesses are on the rise and so now it’s really important to get your seasonal shots,” she said. “For some people, especially older folks and those with immune issues, these diseases can be deadly. So we have a simple message today and that’s protect yourself and help protect your family and neighbors. It’s really important to get your shots.”