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COVID-19 vaccine booster updates, flu shots, and more

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Dr. Lilian Abbo, center, simultaneously receives a flu vaccine and a Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot — Photo by Lynne Sladky / AP
Dr. Lilian Abbo, center, simultaneously receives a flu vaccine and a Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot — Photo by Lynne Sladky / AP

On October 22, the Department of Health released updates for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots. Booster doses are available for all three vaccination types for certain people. The DOH continues to follow recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In September, Pfizer booster doses began being administered in Washington; since then, over 345,000 doses (combined boosters and third doses) have been administered. Moderna and Pfizer booster doses are available at least six months after the initial two-dose vaccination series. Additional Johnson & Johnson doses are recommended at least two months after the single-dose series for those 18 years and above.

"A booster dose will further protect fully vaccinated individuals by increasing the vaccine's effectiveness in their bodies, which otherwise may wane over time," said Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH.

Who can get a booster?
Those who are 65 years or older are eligible in addition to those who are:

  • 18 to 64 years old who live in a long-term care facility
  • 18 to 64 years old who have underlying health conditions (e.g., HIV, Down syndrome, cancer, diabetes, depression, pregnancy)
  • 18 to 64 years old who are at an increased risk of social inequities (e.g., the LGBTQ+, disabled, Latinx, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Black/African American, and Asian American communities; agricultural workers; people with limited English proficiency)
  • 18 to 64 years old who live or work in high-risk settings (e.g., first responders, postal service workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, corrections workers)

    The FDA and CDC announced that mixing and matching different types of boosters is safe and effective: Pfizer recipients can receive a Johnson & Johnson or Moderna booster; Johnson & Johnson recipients can receive a Pfizer or Moderna booster; Moderna recipients can receive a Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson booster.

    According to the DOH, plenty of vaccines remain available across the state for people looking to become fully vaccinated or for those looking to receive their boosters. To find a vaccination site near you, visit https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/ (Don't forget to schedule your flu shot, too. See below.)

    What to expect from the booster
    The Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson boosters are full doses, while the Moderna boosters are a half dose. Expect mild to moderate symptoms — similar to those of the second dose — for the booster. Common symptoms include redness and pain at the injection site, and tiredness.

    State agency vaccination data
    The vaccination deadline for state workers was Oct. 18. As of Oct. 25, the Office of Financial Management (OFM) relayed that over 94% of state employees are in compliance with the vaccine mandate. Approximately 91% of employees have verified that they are fully vaccinated, while 3.2% of employees have received religious or disability accommodations.

    King County COVID data as of Oct. 25 — Image courtesy Seattle and King County Public Health  

    Available data from the OFM shows that approximately 2.9% of state employees (1,785) have left their occupations or were terminated. About 3.1% of remaining state employees are pending action, which means they are either in the process of being vaccinated or have a pending retirement, accommodation, or separation.

    FDA briefing
    During an FDA briefing on Oct. 26, a panel of independent advisors recommended that children ages 5 to 11 can safely receive the Pfizer vaccine. The FDA panel voted 17 to 1 in favor of Pfizer's vaccine data, which shows 90.7% effectiveness in preventing COVID infections for this age group.

    If an emergency-use authorization is issued, younger children will be able to receive a dose (one-third of the adult dose) and would be able to receive a second dose a minimum of 21 days following the first dose.

    According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, since the start of the pandemic, about 6.3 million children have tested positive for COVID-19; in the past week, there were about 118,000 new child COVID cases across the country. Currently, child COVID-19 cases represent approximately 25.1% of weekly reported cases.

    In Washington, as of Oct. 21, there are 141,361 cumulative COVID cases in those aged 0—19 years old, which represents about 20.1% of total cases in the state.

    High hospital occupancy to continue through the fall
    COVID-19 data shows how case numbers, hospital admissions, and hospital occupancies have declined, yet the levels remain high. Across the state, hospitals continue to operate at full capacity, which is not expected to change throughout the fall.

    The prevalence of COVID-19 in Washington has declined since September, and the best current estimate is that 1 in every 244 people has an active COVID infection. As of Oct. 25, community transmission in King County remains high, with daily averages of 390 cases, 13 hospitalizations, and 3 deaths.

    Flu shots
    The DOH recommends that people who are scheduling vaccinations and booster doses also schedule their flu shots. Both influenza and COVID vaccines can be given at the same time, and the flu can easily overwhelm hospitals that are already at capacity.

    The flu is expected to be more common this year as a result of more reopenings, in comparison to last year. Those who are six months and older are eligible to receive a flu shot, which is covered by most insurance plans. Those who are 18 years of age and under may receive the flu shot at zero cost because they are at greater risk of serious flu-related health outcomes.

    Young children, those who are pregnant, those who are 65 years and older, and those with underlying health conditions are at particularly high risk for flu-related complications. The flu is highly contagious, causes moderate to severe illness, and sometimes leads to hospitalization and death — even in young people with no underlying health conditions.