by Sally James
The new COVID-19 vaccine is not quite available in Seattle today, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended it for almost all ages last week. State health authorities say plenty of this new vaccine will be here within a few weeks.
The new vaccine is tailored toward the latest version of the COVID-19 virus, which is constantly shifting and changing; the latest variant is known as XBB.1.5. While the vaccine is recommended for most age groups, it’s highly recommended for those who are over 65 or who have weaker immune systems and are therefore at highest risk of COVID-19 infection.
At a media event Friday, Sept. 15, State Department of Health officials said this latest vaccine will slowly become available at clinics, pharmacies, and wherever you expect to see vaccines. This is the first COVID-19 vaccine that is not part of the federal Public Health Emergency declaration, which covered previous shots but ended on May 11, 2023. This complicates the rollout, State officials said Friday. As of today, drugstores were scheduling vaccination appointments for later this week.
Seattle Public Schools will be offering this vaccine at clinics inside its school-based health centers, but it has not said exactly when that will begin. Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic at Othello will also have the vaccine, but hasn’t predicted when. There are school health clinics at many South End schools, including Rainier, Garfield, Franklin, Cleveland, and West Seattle high schools, and many middle and elementary schools.
One date that is certain is Oct. 3, when Public Health — Seattle & King County will offer free COVID-19 boosters at its health center in Kent. A post on the agency’s Public Health Insider answers many questions, including how housebound people can get the vaccine.
If you have Medicare or Medicaid or most kinds of insurance, the vaccine will be free because it is covered by those plans. If you don’t have any insurance or are experiencing homelessness, the County will set up some mobile clinics and other sites with free vaccines. Some pharmacies will provide free vaccines as part of a federal program for the uninsured.
The CDC is recommending these guidelines for who should get the vaccine:
- One dose is recommended for all individuals 5 years and older. According to updated CDC guidelines, individuals in certain risk groups may receive additional doses with guidance from a health care provider.
- For children 6 months through 4 years old, the number of vaccinations depends on which vaccine they received earlier, and their age.
As autumn leaves begin to turn red, it is not just COVID-19 that can make you sick. Health officials want people to put this into a larger context with other seasonal illnesses, like the flu, and to see it as something that is not going away.
“It is time to pull out all the lessons of respiratory etiquette,” said Scott Lindquist during the media event. Lindquist is the State’s epidemiologist, studying and predicting how illnesses will spread. Lindquist suggested people get their flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine together. Some people might want to get RSV, flu, and COVID-19 together.
Wearing masks indoors, handwashing, and staying home when you have symptoms are some of the ways we stop the spread of all three seasonal viral illnesses: COVID-19, flu, and RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus. RSV is a well-known danger to infants and the elderly, but for people between those ages, it is usually just a mild cold. This year, for the first time, there is an RSV vaccine for infants and the elderly.
The State created a new platform that displays levels of hospitalization and other data about all three viruses called the Respiratory Illness Data Dashboard.
“Prevention is key,” said Umair Shah, the State’s Secretary of Health, during the media event.
Currently, COVID-19 hospitalizations have ticked upward but remain far below the peaks of past years. If all three of these respiratory illnesses crest at the same time later this year, it could be challenging for area hospitals. State data shows only about 26% of people in the state are up to date on all COVID-19 shots recommended for them, but that number is higher for some age groups, such as seniors.
Free COVID-19 tests are not easy to find these days. During the Public Health Emergency declaration, they were mailed to households and widely available. But even if you don’t have a home test, it is wise to stay away from other people if you have symptoms, said Michele Roberts, the Washington State Department of Health’s assistant secretary of health, during the media event. People without insurance can use the CDC’s no-cost COVID-19 testing website to find places to get free testing.
The overall message from the media event: Get ready now for respiratory illnesses that are known to peak in late fall and winter.
Sally James is a science writer in Seattle. You can read more of her work at SeattleScienceWriter.com. She’s written about biotech, cancer research, and health literacy and volunteered as president of the nonprofit Northwest Science Writers Association.
Before you move on to the next story … The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible. If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference. We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!