Director of NCEZID Dr. Romesh Gautom (left to right), Dr. Umair A. Shah, Director of CDC Mandy Cohen and Microbiology Office Director Dr. Brian Hiatt tour a handful of labs in the Public Health Laboratories building on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023 in Shoreline, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Director of NCEZID Dr. Romesh Gautom (left to right), Dr. Umair A. Shah, Director of CDC Mandy Cohen and Microbiology Office Director Dr. Brian Hiatt tour a handful of labs in the Public Health Laboratories building on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023 in Shoreline, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In Shoreline visit, CDC director spotlights vaccines, new COVID booster

CDC Director Mandy Cohen toured a state lab to promote annual vaccines against the flu, RSV and COVID-19.

EVERETT — Mandy Cohen, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, visited a state lab in Shoreline on Friday to promote vaccines for fall readiness.

Cohen toured Public Health Laboratories, the only state Department of Health facility that tests people, animals and food to track diseases and environmental health concerns across the state. It is also the state’s primary COVID-19 testing facility.

Cohen met with Washington Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah and other health officials to discuss the state’s disease prevention measures in preparation for the colder months.

Shah said staying up to date on vaccines is “absolutely critical” and “reminds us how to care for our community.”

Cohen said the country is in a stronger position than ever to fight major diseases because vaccines are available for influenza, COVID-19 and now respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the leading cause of infant hospitalization.

“Just as we’ve lived with the flu, we’re going to be living with COVID,” Cohen said in an interview. “The new COVID booster should roll out mid-September, and there will be annual boosters moving forward.”

Cohen, who took the top job in July, has continued her predecessor Rochelle Walensky’s efforts to increase public trust in the CDC and strengthen health care across the country, including higher vaccination rates.

“Local leaders are the tip of the spear of health care efforts,” she said.

James Lewis, the Snohomish County health officer and an epidemiologist, said the county is working to improve disease surveillance and make up-to-date information more accessible on the health department website.

The county health department publishes weekly reports to track flu cases — the department reported 116 hospitalizations and 12 deaths during last year’s flu season — and biweekly COVID-19 case counts. The department doesn’t yet have a way to track RSV cases.

Lewis said vaccination rates across the county are about 90%. The county is building a team to more thoroughly collect and analyze data on disease and vaccination rates, which Lewis said will help detect underserved demographics where more outreach is needed.

“Your zip code is more of an indication of life expectancy than anything else,” he said. “The county as a whole may have a high vaccination rate, but drilling down to specific neighborhoods, races and ethnicities may tell a different story.”

Lewis said health care providers are reporting an increase in parents showing hesitancy to get their children vaccinated before they enroll their children in school, where some vaccines are required by state law. Vaccines recommended before a child turns one year old include Hepatitis B, polio and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines.

“We really want children to be up to date on vaccines,”’ Lewis said.

The latest data shows kindergarten immunization in the county at just over 90%. According to the county’s Community Health Assessment published in June, child immunization exemptions were highest in the Darrington, Index and Monroe school districts in the 2018-2019 school year.

“When you get vaccines for you and your children, talk about it with your friends and family,” he said. “It will have an impact.”

Vaccination clinics can be found using the county’s “how to get your shot” dashboard.

Sydney Jackson: 425-339-3430; sydney.jackson@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @_sydneyajackson.

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