Lung Association spokesman asks everyone to get vaccines this fall

DES MOINES — A University of Iowa medical school graduate who’s now a national spokesman for the American Lung Association is urging Iowans to get an array of vaccinations this fall to protect themselves from the flu, RSV, and a resurgence of COVID-19. Pulmonologist Dr. Jamie Rutland says flu cases spiked in Iowa last year, compared to previous pandemic years, as most people were no longer masking or keeping six feet away from others. How severe will the flu season ahead be?

“You are going to see influenza infection, but yeah, there’s not social distance and there wasn’t really social distance last year either, so I don’t expect it to be a worse flu season when compared to last year, but I do expect individuals to be infected,” Rutland says, “and I also would like individuals to protect themselves, especially individuals who have risk factors for a severe disease.”

Flu vaccines are already available in Iowa, so he’s hoping people will get their shots now so their immune systems are ready. That goes double for people who are compromised by things like heart disease, lung disease or diabetes. “Individuals who have this overall inflammatory state in their body, so when they are infected with a virus like influenza, it leads to an extreme amount of inflammation and it can lead to organ failures and things of that sort,” Rutland says, “which leads to a lot of hospitalizations and a lot of deaths that can be preventable with influenza vaccination.”

Rutland, who practices in his native southern California, says RSV is another big concern, especially as flu season approaches, and two RSV vaccines are now available, primarily for people 60 and over.. “One-hundred percent of kids have had RSV by the time they’re the age of two, but when you look at RSV and the infection of RSV, it leads to a lot of wheezing, coughing, mucus production, shortness of breath as well, just like influenza,” Rutland says. “It’s very important for individuals who have risk factors for severe disease of RSV to be vaccinated as well.”

He says it’s especially important for people who are at least 60 years old to get vaccinated for RSV. The CDC says COVID cases are rising again nationwide and Rutland says for most people, a COVID booster is highly recommended this fall. “We know that vaccination does protect against serious disease,” Rutland says. “When you look at vaccination overall, a lot of individuals are like, ‘Well, I can still get infected.’ Yeah, you could still get infected but the vaccine’s point is to prevent your immune system from over-responding to the presence of the infection — which puts you in the hospital.”

The CDC estimates there were as many as 54 million flu cases nationwide last year and between 19,000 and 58,000 deaths due to the flu. Iowa health officials report 366 flu deaths statewide in 2021.

Learn more at or call the Lung Helpline at 1-800-LUNGUSA.