Preventative measures coming for COVID, RSV, flu
We’re on the cusp of respiratory-virus season, when indoor gatherings increase the risk of infection, but there are vaccines and other ways for people to protect themselves, their families and their communities.
The state Department of Health (DOH) outlined effective preventive measures, including updated vaccines for the latest COVID variant and flu and a new vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), at a media briefing last week.
The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months of age or older. It is especially important for people 65 and above; people with underlying conditions such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease; and for pregnant people, Washington Secretary of Health Umair Shah said. There is a high-dose flu vaccine for people 65 and older.
DOH is recommending RSV protection for people over 60 and those with heart and lung conditions. A new preventive treatment for RSV for infants and children using monoclonal antibodies is promising, and people should talk with their provider about whether the treatment is appropriate, Shah said.
COVID hospitalizations in the state have increased since July, although the rate remains considerably lower than in previous seasons, state Epidemiologist for Communicable Diseases Scott Lindquist said. There have been fewer spikes in COVID this year because people have learned preventive measures such as masking and hand-washing from past seasons — and because most people have some degree of immunity from vaccination or infection, he said.
There was an uptick in COVID cases in Okanogan County about two to three weeks ago, but new infections appear to be calming down now, Family Health Centers (FHC) Employee Health/Infection Control Manager Sheena Kitterman said.
Confluence Health, which operates hospitals in Wenatchee, has seen a recent increase in the number of patients with COVID, but not in serious illness or hospitalization. The primary impact has been increased mask use by patients to help prevent the spread of disease, Confluence Corporate Communications Program Manager Adam MacDonald said.
Even if someone becomes infected with COVID after vaccination, symptoms should be mild, state Assistant Secretary for Prevention and Community Health Michele Roberts said. We’re in an absolutely better place with COVID than over the past three years, Shah said.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended an updated COVID booster that targets the latest Omicron variants. The COVID booster is especially important for older people, those in congregate settings such as assisted living, and for people with children. Health care providers recommend people get an annual COVID booster, just like they get a yearly flu shot, Shah said.
RSV is so common in children that almost all have had the virus by the time they reach age 2. The virus normally causes mild, cold-like symptoms, but it can be serious for infants and for adults with underlying conditions, Lindquist said.
Increases in all three respiratory conditions at the same time could stress the health care system, particularly because of ongoing staffing challenges, Shah said.
In addition to getting vaccinated, other basic precautions will help keep people healthy throughout the upcoming virus season. People should stay home and not go to work or school if sick. People should cover their cough and sneeze, and wash their hands thoroughly, Lindquist said.
Local vaccine availability
Family Health Centers expects to have the new COVID booster for adults and children this week, and is providing COVID tests at its Twisp clinic, Kitterman said.
Confluence Health will be ordering the COVID booster from its supplier, and it will be available for adult patients at the Methow Valley Clinic in Winthrop, MacDonald said. COVID tests are also available at the clinic.
FHC and the Methow Valley Clinic both have the regular and high-dose flu vaccines.
FHC plans to order the RSV vaccine and preventive treatment for infants once they are available, Kitterman said.
Confluence Health has decided not to carry the RSV vaccine for adults based on clinical data in research trials, MacDonald said. Confluence is waiting for the CDC to issue a recommendation on RSV protection for infants through vaccinations of pregnant individuals and monoclonal antibodies, he said.
With the end of the federal COVID emergency, the COVID vaccine and tests are no longer free for everyone. Most insurance plans will cover the vaccine in full, Roberts said. Vaccines are free for all Washingtonians age 18 and younger. People who are uninsured or underinsured can get vaccines for free through the state’s adult vaccine program.
People can get vaccines for flu and COVID — and other regular immunizations such as tetanus — at the same time, Roberts said.