EVERETT — As the colder months approach, new vaccines are available at pharmacies, clinics and vaccination pop-ups across Snohomish County.
This year’s rollout includes vaccines against influenza, COVID-19 and — for the first time ever — respiratory syncytial virus, the leading cause of infant hospitalization. The federal Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved recommendations for the vaccines this month.
“Vaccinations should be done right now,” said Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, medical director for disease and outbreak response at Optum Pacific Northwest.
Those hoping to get vaccinated should make an appointment sooner rather than later. Clinics provided 4,450 COVID doses across the county last week, compared to 210 the previous week.
Tools to find the nearest vaccine provider include the state’s vaccine locator and the federal vaccine search by zip code. Texting a zip code to GETVAX (438829) will prompt a reply of vaccination sites nearby. Personal vaccination records can be found online.
“That could change tomorrow or next week,” said James Lewis, the Snohomish County health officer. “I’m hearing about a lot of people getting COVID in the community.”
The new flu and COVID vaccines are recommended for everyone 6 months and older. Unlike previous COVID vaccines and boosters, the latest is a single-dose annual vaccine said to be effective against the two newest variants: EG.5 and BA.2.86, also known as Pirola. The vaccine will be reformulated next year to match circulating variants, similar to the annual flu vaccine.
COVID and flu vaccines are available at most pharmacies, but companies are still distributing vaccines and there may be limited appointments. It’s safe to get vaccinated against the flu and COVID at the same time.
Pop-ups are another option. The Seattle Visiting Nurses Association is set to host a pop-up clinic for flu and COVID shots at the Edmonds Waterfront Center on Oct. 2 and Oct. 23 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Patients must register in advance.
Organizations interested in hosting a clinic can submit a request to the state’s Care-A-Van program.
Most insurance companies will pay for the new COVID vaccine. For those who are uninsured or underinsured, a dose could cost over $100. There are resources: The federal Bridge Access Program tool shows locations providing free vaccinations for adults, and Vaccines for Children providers vaccinate under- or uninsured children.
For the first time, infants will have immunity during RSV season. Infants typically contract the virus in their first or second winter, and the recommended time for immunization is within the first week of birth. Infants receive immunity through formed antibody injections — not vaccines which cause antibody production — due to their weaker immune systems.
Lewis said RSV immunizations should be available for Washington infants starting in October.
In addition, new RSV vaccines for people in their third trimester are said to provide immunity for the child through placenta and breast milk. Seniors, who are also high-risk for RSV hospitalization, are recommended to consider the vaccine with their primary care provider. Most RSV doses are administered at a doctor’s office.
At Optum, Tu has tracked flu, COVID and RSV cases across the state to help predict hospital patient loads and the overall impact on the hospital system. He said flu cases “basically disappeared off the map” from 2020 to 2021 due to COVID precautions. They ramped up in 2022, and RSV reappeared with a vengeance.
“RSV cases exploded last year,” he said. “They also occurred much earlier in the season.”
COVID is at least twice as deadly as the flu, Tu said, and it caused over 100,000 deaths in the United States last winter.
“The impact of COVID is 15 gorillas in the room compared to influenza,” he said.
Lewis said even a moderate flu, COVID and RSV season will put significant strain on the health care system.
“It will be substantially worse, in terms of the number of ER visits and hospitalizations, than even severe RSV and flu seasons prior to the pandemic,” he said.
Health care locations in the county may reinstate mask policies, Lewis said, but the county is “not planning on mask mandates.”
“Health care settings are places our most vulnerable people have to access on a regular basis,” he said. “They don’t have a choice and need to have that be a safe environment.”
Lewis said those who are healthy should still get vaccinated to protect those who are more vulnerable.
“The biggest benefit is to your friends, family and community,” he said. “You are going to decrease the risk that you would be able to transmit the virus.”