COVID-19 Boosters

The CDC recently recommended the following updated mRNA COVID-19 vaccine boosters to help restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination and target more transmissible and immune-evading variants:

  • The Moderna bivalent mRNA COVID-19 booster is authorized for people 18 and older.
  • The Pfizer bivalent mRNA COVID-19 booster is authorized for people 12 years and up.

These boosters are referred to as “bivalent” vaccines because they target both the original strain of COVID-19 and the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants currently circulating in the United States. These updated boosters will help better protect us against these and future variants that might be closely related to Omicron.

Everyone who is eligible to receive the bivalent booster – including those who are moderately and severely immunocompromised – are recommended to receive ONE dose of the booster regardless of how many doses they have received previously. Those eligible may receive the updated booster if at least 2 months have passed since their last COVID-19 dose (either the final primary series dose or the last booster).

The original (monovalent) mRNA COVID-19 vaccine boosters are no longer authorized for people aged 12 years and older and can no longer be given to them, even if they had not previously received a monovalent booster dose. Children ages 5-11 should still receive the monovalent booster (at least 5 months after their second dose).

Routine Childhood Immunizations, Seasonal Influenza, & COVID-19 Vaccination can be co-administered

COVID-19 disrupted both in-person learning and routine well-child visits for many children. As a result, tens of thousands of children and adolescents have fallen behind on receiving recommended vaccines.

Timely vaccination is critical, as immunization schedules are designed to provide children with immunity early in life before they may be exposed to life-threatening diseases. Not only do delayed or missed vaccines leave children vulnerable to illness but when vaccination rates fall even just a little, vaccine-preventable diseases can spread easily.

We know from studies conducted throughout the pandemic that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as routine immunizations is safe. If multiple vaccines are due, giving more than one vaccine at the same visit is important because it increases the probability that an individual will be up to date with vaccines.

In addition, with both influenza and COVID-19 viruses circulating, getting both the Flu and COVID-19 vaccines is important for prevention of severe disease, hospitalization, and death. CDC recommends health care providers offer influenza and COVID-19 vaccines at the same visit, with each dose administered in separate limbs.

Omicron COVID-19 vaccine boosters now authorized for certain individuals

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and other healthcare providers will soon begin offering Omicron variant-targeted bivalent booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines following authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunizations Practices, and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup.  

The bivalent vaccines combine the companies’ original COVID-19 vaccine compositions with BA.4 and BA.5 spike protein components, providing additional protection by targeting variants that are more transmissible and immune-evading. The primary COVID-19 vaccine series will stay the same, given their proven efficacy in preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. DOH’s updated booster dose recommendations are as follows: 

  • People ages 12 – 17 who have completed a primary vaccine series can receive the Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent booster at least two months after their most recent dose. 
  • People 18 and older who have completed a primary vaccine series can receive either company’s bivalent booster at least two months after their most recent dose. 
  • Those ages 5 – 11 who have completed Pfizer-BioNTech’s primary vaccine series should continue to receive the company’s original monovalent booster at least 5 months after their most recent dose. 
  • Children ages 6 months – 4 years are currently not authorized for any COVID-19 booster doses. 
  • People ages 12 and over who currently have appointments to receive COVID-19 booster doses will need to contact their providers to ensure the bivalent booster is available; if not, those appointments will need to be rescheduled, as the former monovalent booster doses are no longer authorized for this age group. 

“We’re excited this updated bivalent booster will help increase protection against the Omicron variants as we head into the fall season,” said Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, MD, MPH, Chief Science Officer. “As SARS-CoV-2 changes, so must the tools we use against it – this update helps ensure that vaccines and boosters will continue to be the most effective ways to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death, and keep those most at-risk healthy and safe.” 

An initial allocation of 191,100 bivalent booster doses is currently en route to providers throughout the state and will be available beginning the week of September 5 after the Labor Day holiday. Subsequent weekly allocations will follow, building the state’s inventory levels over time. DOH urges the public to remain patient, as we expect initial demand to exceed available inventory before resolving in the coming weeks, and to visit Vaccine Locator or call the COVID-19 Information Hotline at 1-800-525-0127 to find available resources near them. 

Unraveling the Interplay of Omicron, Reinfections, and Long Covid

The latest covid-19 surge, caused by a shifting mix of quickly evolving omicron subvariants, appears to be waning, with cases and hospitalizations beginning to fall.

Like past covid waves, this one will leave a lingering imprint in the form of long covid, an ill-defined catchall term for a set of symptoms that can include debilitating fatigue, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and brain fog.

Although omicron infections are proving milder overall than those caused by last summer’s delta variant, omicron has also proved capable of triggering long-term symptoms and organ damage. But whether omicron causes long covid symptoms as often — and as severe — as previous variants is a matter of heated study.

Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, is among the researchers who say the far greater number of omicron infections compared with earlier variants signals the need to prepare for a significant boost in people with long covid. The U.S. has recorded nearly 38 million covid infections so far this year, as omicron has blanketed the nation. That’s about 40% of all infections reported since the start of the pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center.

Long covid “is a parallel pandemic that most people aren’t even thinking about,” said Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunobiology at Yale University. “I suspect there will be millions of people who acquire long covid after omicron infection.”

Read the full article from KHN.

Department of Health releases updated COVID-19 guidance for K-12 schools & child care

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has released its updated COVID-19 guidance for K-12 schools and child care. The guidance takes lessons learned from the first two and a half years of the pandemic, and outlines both required and recommended measures for the 2022-23 school year to help reduce COVID-19 transmission in school and child care settings. Schools, child care providers, and families can expect limited changes focused on clarifying and simplifying the guidance.

“We are entering a new stage of coexisting with COVID-19 in our communities, knowing that COVID-19 is here to stay for the foreseeable future,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “DOH also recognizes the importance of being able to maintain in-person learning for children, and the fundamental links between education and long-term health outcomes.”

Clarified requirements and recommendations in this school year’s guidance include:

  • Students, children, and staff who test positive for COVID-19 are required to stay at home and isolate for 5 days. Repeating initial COVID-19 testing will not affect this requirement.
  • Students, children, and staff returning from 5 days of isolation should wear a well-fitted mask from days 6 to 10. Those returning are encouraged to test before doing so.
  • Schools and child care providers are no longer required to directly notify high risk individuals of exposure but must continue to have a process in place to inform students, staff, and families of cases and outbreaks.
  • Schools and child care providers continue to be required to report outbreaks (3 or more cases within a specified core group) to local health jurisdictions (LHJ) and to have a system in place to respond.

DOH continues to encourage schools and child care providers to consider their local context when selecting any additional measures to help reduce COVID-19 transmission in schools and child care settings and to coordinate with their LHJ, particularly during times of outbreak. Schools, child care providers, and the LHJ may choose to continue to implement more protective measures, depending upon their context, to help ensure students, children, and staff can continue in-person activities safely.

While the guidance is specific to COVID-19 prevention, it can also help to reduce transmission of other common respiratory viruses such as influenza. DOH has also developed a brief for schools and a brief for child care providers to provide a high-level overview on changes to the guidance.

COVID-19 vaccinations remain the best protection for everyone against hospitalization and severe disease from COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccine is now available for children 6 months and older. Booster doses are also available for children 5 years and older. DOH encourages all families to vaccinate their children if they are eligible, in consultation with health care providers.

New Telehealth Option Launched to Expand COVID-19 Treatment Access

To increase access to potentially life-saving medication to treat COVID-19, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and its partners have launched a new telehealth option for patients. The new option expands the Federal government’s Test to Treat initiative and gives people at risk of severe disease another way to quickly access free treatment for COVID-19.

Until now, telehealth for COVID-19 has only been available to insured patients who receive care through a health care provider that offers telehealth visits. This new program makes telehealth consultations for COVID-19 available to everyone, regardless of insurance status, with no out-of-pocket costs.

“At DOH, we value equity and innovation, and have embraced those values throughout our COVID-19 response,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “Ensuring that we can equitably connect communities with therapeutics is pivotal so that we can continue our mission of reducing unnecessary death from this disease.”

DOH encourages people who test positive for COVID-19 to discuss treatment options with their primary health care provider. In situations where this might not be possible, free telehealth consultations are another option that can make it even easier to access treatments for COVID-19. People who test positive for COVID-19, including with a self-test, can consult with a health care provider using a smartphone or computer with a high-speed internet connection.

If appropriate, they can receive a free prescription for pick-up at the nearest pharmacy that has the oral antivirals or have their medication delivered. More than 1,000 sites are available across the state. This telehealth service is currently provided by DOH in collaboration with partners, including Birds Eye Medical and Color Health.    

There are two options to set up a telehealth appointment –  either by visiting DOH’s new telehealth webpage or by calling the DOH COVID-19 call center. Those interested in signing up virtually can complete a brief intake form on DOH’s new telehealth webpage. If the information provided indicates treatment may be appropriate, the patient will be connected virtually with a health care provider for a consultation. Telehealth providers are available every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Those interested can arrange an appointment by phone by calling the DOH COVID-19 call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press #. The call center is available to arrange telehealth consultations from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Mondays, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays through Sundays and state holidays.

Telehealth appointments are currently available in 240 languages through translation services. People interested in receiving a telehealth appointment in a language other than English should arrange an appointment through the DOH COVID-19 call center. 

One of the most effective COVID-19 treatments is Paxlovid, an oral antiviral drug that reduces the risk of hospitalization by approximately 90 percent. Oral antivirals like Paxlovid are only available by prescription and must be started within five days of first symptoms to prevent severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19. 

“Our goal is for all eligible patients at high risk for severe disease to have equitable access to life-saving COVID-19 treatments,” said Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, MD, MPH, Chief Science Officer. “We’re excited to make this service free to everyone with no out of pocket costs so that even those without insurance will be able to access antiviral medications. And by offering telehealth consultations in multiple languages, the program increases access for non-English speakers as well.”

Oral antivirals are an important treatment for people who are at high risk of hospitalization. People at high risk include those 65 years old or older, obese, pregnant, have chronic medical conditions such as heart, lung, or kidney disease, or people who are taking immunosuppressant treatments. Children as young as 12 years old with certain chronic conditions and who weigh at least 88 pounds, may also be eligible for antiviral treatment. Learn more about what may place people at high risk for COVID-19.

Visit the Washington State Department of Health’s website for more information on COVID-19 treatments and information for health care providers.

CDC Recommends COVID-19 Vaccines for Young Children

Today, CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., endorsed the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ (ACIP) recommendation that all children 6 months through 5 years of age should receive a COVID-19 vaccine. This expands eligibility for vaccination to nearly 20 million additional children and means that all Americans ages 6 months and older are now eligible for vaccination. 

Parents and caregivers can now get their children 6 months through 5 years of age vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines to better protect them from COVID-19. All children, including children who have already had COVID-19, should get vaccinated.

COVID-19 vaccines have undergone—and will continue to undergo—the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history. Parents and caregivers can play an active role in monitoring the safety of these vaccines by signing their children up for v-safe – personalized and confidential health check-ins via text messages and web surveys where they can easily share with CDC how a child feels after getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Distribution of pediatric vaccinations for these younger children has started across the country, and will be available at thousands of pediatric practices, pharmacies, Federally Qualified Health Centers, local health departments, clinics, and other locations this week. Children in this younger age group can be vaccinated with whichever vaccine is available (either Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech). Parents can reach out to their doctor, nurse, local pharmacy, or health department, or visit vaccines.gov to see where vaccines for children are available.     

Read the full release from the CDC.

Children Ages 6 months – 4 Years May Soon Be Eligible for COVID-19 Vaccination

Long-awaited pediatric vaccinations are currently in the authorization process

OLYMPIA: Several COVID-19 vaccination series for children are being considered for emergency use authorization in the coming days, including:

  • A Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 6 months — 4 years
  • A Moderna vaccines for children ages 6 months — 5 years
  • A second Moderna vaccine for youth ages 6 — 17 years

The agencies that must authorize or recommend vaccines for these ages are the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup. If the recommendations for these vaccines pass, the Washington State Department of Health will begin supplying healthcare providers with vaccines for children ages 6 months to 4 years.

“Getting vaccinated remains the best way to protect yourself and those around you. We applaud the patience of parents anxiously awaiting this authorization. As a parent, I understand their desire to protect their child,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “We expect enough vaccines to meet initial demand and that supply will continue to increase in the coming days and weeks.

“We will continue to monitor supply to meet the needs of those seeking out COVID-19 vaccines for all age groups. We are all in it together.”

While parents are understandably eager for their young children to receive these vaccines, similar to other vaccine rollouts the Department of Health urges them to remain patient. Overwhelming demand may temporarily slow the pediatric vaccination process while more providers and healthcare systems may take time to support the potential increase in demand.

To make a vaccine or booster appointment, visit Vaccine Locator, Vaccines.gov, or call the COVID-19 Information Hotline at 833-VAX-HELP. Language assistance is available. If you do not find an appointment in your immediate area, we recommend that you continue checking as more providers come online. Those with further questions are encouraged to visit DOH’s COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions webpage or talk to their trusted health care provider.

Children ages 5-11 now eligible for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 booster dose

Booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are now available for children ages 5-11. The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) expanded booster dose eligibility to include everyone 5 and older following guidance and recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup.

“The CDC’s announcement is welcome news as we continue to do everything we can to keep Washingtonians of all ages safe,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “This pandemic is not over and we must continue to use the tools at our disposal. This includes masking, therapeutics, vaccinations and – of course – boosters. Keeping yourselves and those around you safe is of utmost importance, and this recommendation is another step in that direction.”

The expansion of booster eligibility comes as COVID-19 cases are continuing to steadily rise across the county. The myth that COVID-19 is always a mild disease in children needs to be dispelled. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 4.8 million children ages 5-11 have been diagnosed with COVID-19, with 15,000 hospitalized and, tragically, 180 deceased.

DOH’s updated booster dose recommendations are as follows:

  • Children ages 5-11 should receive a booster dose five months after completing their primary vaccine series of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Immunocompromised children should receive their booster at least three months after their primary series.
  • Everyone 12 and older should receive a booster dose five months after completing their primary vaccine series of Pfizer or Moderna, or two months after receiving the single-shot Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine.
  • Everyone 50 and older should receive a second booster dose four months after receiving their first booster dose.
  • Individuals 12 and older who are moderately or severely immunocompromised should receive a second booster dose four months after receiving their first booster dose.
  • Those 18 and older who received a primary vaccine and booster dose of the J&J vaccine four months ago can receive a second booster dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

To make a vaccine or booster appointment, visit Vaccine Locator, Vaccines.gov, or call the COVID-19 Information Hotline at 833-VAX-HELP. Language assistance is available. Those with further questions are encouraged to visit DOH’s COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions webpage or talk to their trusted health care provider.