People who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to prevent serious COVID-19 disease are eligible to get a booster, even if they don’t fall into any high-risk category. The Washington Dept. of Health (DOH) included this announcement in their virtual press conference on Oct. 27.
National vaccine regulators approved booster doses of vaccine for people who received Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines Oct. 20, but the recommendations differ depending on which vaccine a person originally took. Earlier this year, the Pfizer boosters were approved for people at high risk — from their age or occupation or an underlying medical condition. Regulators also approved only people at high risk, in the same categories, for Moderna boosters.
Over the past 18 months, I’ve read well over a hundred research papers on COVID-19, treatments, and vaccines. This week’s “long read” is hands down the most informative of all of them.
One of the essential tenets of science is that it must be repeatable: Every time an event happens, we should expect the same result. In practice we often don’t see precisely the same result, even in laboratory conditions, because of experimental error, contamination, sampling error, unknown confounding factors, and bias (intentional or otherwise). That’s why in the world of science a single research study alone isn’t enough to establish new knowledge; the scientific community waits until other researchers have replicated the study and independently confirmed the results.
In our mad rush to save lives by developing treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, we have often substituted a single carefully crafted and skeptically reviewed clinical trial for the greater assurance that we would get with multiple complete studies — at least for the purposes of “emergency use authorization” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But with the passage of time, and the need to recertify the vaccines in multiple countries, there is now a substantial number of vaccine studies that have been published. Together they give us much higher confidence in our estimates of the effectiveness of the vaccines.
This week’s “long read” is an article in the journal Nature, looking at the long and complicated path leading to the mRNA vaccine technology and techniques used to create the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines against COVID-19.
“Messenger RNA,” or mRNA, is essentially a recipe for building proteins. Living cells use it as a way of passing notes around: Parts of our DNA are transcribed into mRNA, which is then read by the tiny factories in our cells that produce proteins.
Technically, a virus isn’t alive: It’s just a string of genetic material surrounded by a coating of fat (what biologists call “lipids”) with some proteins on the surface that help it to gain access into our cells (such as the COVID-19 “spike protein”). Once a virus invades our cells, its DNA is also transcribed into mRNA that contains the blueprint for the virus, and then our own cells do all the hard work to churn out thousands of virus copies.
In late August, King County began reaching out to “cities, small businesses, chambers of commerce, labor unions, trade associations, sports teams, venues, community groups, and faith-based leaders throughout the county” to attempt an equitable arrangement on a vaccine verification policy for businesses and residents.
A round-up of news and announcements we don’t want to get lost in the fast-churning news cycle!
Mask Mandates a Thing (Again) & Public School Employees, Others, Required to Get Vaccine
Gov. Jay Inslee announced during an in-person-only press conference held in an Olympia elementary school Wednesday, Aug. 18, that he would reinstate the statewide indoor mask mandate — for those vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. Inslee said in a tweet immediately following the press conference that COVID-19 cases are “skyrocketing” due — in large part, he said — to the delta variant and that “the best way to protect everyone is to get vaccinated and wear a mask.” He also announced that vaccinations would be required not only for those working in K–12 schools but also in “most childcare and early learning” as well as in higher education. In his tweet, Gov. Inslee listed out highlights of the new vaccine requirements for workers.
As almost 80% of eligible Seattle residents are fully vaccinated, City officials announced on Wednesday that the University of Washington Medicine and other public health partners will take over COVID-19 testing and vaccinations efforts from the Seattle Fire Department (SFD).
“The mission of the Seattle Fire Department is to save lives and protect property and the environment,” Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins told the press Wednesday. “We never really know what that means from day to day, but I think the last 16 or 18 months has shown us that we’re capable of standing in the gap in many different places.”
Since June 2020, SFD has administered roughly 800,000 COVID-19 tests, and one in three Seattleites have used the free testing provided by the department, according to the City.
The Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA) and the City of Seattle collaborated to host a celebration of local culture and food at Hing Park on Saturday, July 17, and Sunday, July 18. The weekend was also the inaugural event of “Welcome Back Weeks,” which was organized by the City of Seattle with the goal of bringing small businesses, workers, and visitors back to the downtown area after nearly a year and a half of restrictions. As part of “Welcome Back Weeks,” over $300,000 has been invested into small businesses, artists, and nonprofits , which all have experienced significant hardship during the pandemic.
The two-day event featured live music and performances from local artists from the community, which attracted sizable crowds. The event also offered attendees the opportunity to receive either a Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, which was administered by representatives from the Seattle Fire Department (SFD). The CIDBIA will be hosting another Summer CID Food Walk from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 31. Events such as this have been planned to spur more community support for locally owned restaurants and businesses that are rebounding from the economic impacts of the pandemic.
This Saturday, July 24, “Welcome Back Weeks” will continue with an event starting at 10:30 a.m. at Pioneer Square, which will be followed up the next day at Westlake starting at 11 a.m. For more information about “Welcome Back Weeks,” visit the Office of the Mayor’s “Seattle’s Equitable Recovery” webpage.
Latino communities remain at higher risk of COVID-19 infection because of lagging vaccination rates, according to a new policy brief released by the University of Washington’s Latino Center for Health (LCH). The new numbers show that only 35% of Latinos are fully vaccinated in the state, with 6% partially vaccinated.
“With the growing threat of the COVID-19 Delta variant in our region, it is imperative that we vaccinate as many Latinos as possible before the fall when schools reopen and cooler temperatures will drive infection rates higher,” said physician Leo Morales, the co-director of LCH and author of the policy brief, in a press release. Another brief LCH released a few months ago suggests that a lack of access to the vaccine as well as vaccine hesitancy are some of the biggest factors affecting Latino communities. Although a majority of those surveyed had positive views on the vaccine, many expressed concerns around side effects and safety, cost, and effectiveness.
After over a year of pushing through the pandemic, state and county health officials are hopeful about declining COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates. But at the same time, significant pockets of Washington State and King County residents remain unvaccinated as restrictions are set to be lifted statewide next week.
“We still have people that have not been vaccinated, we still have people who are unprotected, and we still have people that are going to be at risk for COVID-19,” said Dr. Umair Shah, the Washington Secretary of Health at a press conference on Wednesday, June 23. “We want to make sure that that message of vaccination continues to be there.”
Though Washington State appears to be on track to eventually meet its goal of a 70% vaccination rate among people aged 16 and older, it does not appear that it will meet this goal before the planned state reopening date of June 30. The state is also experiencing an increase in the P.1 virus variant, rather than the recently identified Delta variant about which many other states are expressing concern.
As of this writing, the state sits at an exactly 68% vaccination rate among people aged 16 and older, State Department of Health (DOH) Sec. of Health Dr. Umair Shah said in a June 23 briefing. On June 9, the rate was 66.4%, so the state’s current rate represents just a 1.6% increase in vaccinations among people ages 16 and up.