Updated flu and COVID vaccines are coming this month

A new COVID vaccine targets the original strains and is expected to receive final FDA approval soon.

Plans are shaping up to provide COVID and flu vaccinations for Vashon as we approach the annual season when respiratory infections peak.

A new COVID vaccine targets the original strains of currently circulating variants and the updated vaccine is expected to receive final FDA approval in the next few weeks. It is expected that everyone will be eligible for the new COVID vaccine if it has been four months or longer since their last COVID vaccination.

Vashon Pharmacy

Vashon Pharmacy expects to open its online portal to schedule appointments for COVID and flu vaccinations as early as mid-September.

Vaccinations for both COVID and flu will be available at the pharmacy for everyone who is age three and older. (Children younger than three may be vaccinated at a physician’s office.)

Vaccinations will primarily be provided inside the pharmacy, where it will be possible to get both vaccinations at a single appointment.

Discussions are underway with Vashon Island School District to offer vaccinations at the schools.

Given the expected high demand, Vashon Pharmacy’s planning has included discussions with VashonBePrepared, Vashon Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), and the Vashon Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

Sea Mar Clinic at Sunrise Ridge

When the updated COVID booster is available, the Sea Mar clinic at Sunrise Ridge will be providing vaccinations.

COVID vaccinations will be provided for clinic patients and non-patients on a walk-up basis, with no appointment required. However, the clinic suggests calling ahead before going to the clinic to make sure staff and supplies are available. You can also check the Sea Mar website for availability.

Flu vaccinations will be provided for clinic patients only.

Vashon Natural Medicine

Patients at Vashon Natural Medicine are being referred to Vashon Pharmacy for their COVID vaccinations, as that is the most efficient way for them to get that help.

Practice owner Dr. Kelly Wright said, “I will be headed there to get mine as soon as it is available.” She added that Vashon Natural Medicine has same-day telemed appointments for those with COVID or suspected COVID.

COVID Situation: Summer Wave Still Rising

Public Health — Seattle & King County (PHSKC) reports that COVID cases have been rising in King County.

The report from Dr. Eric Chow, PHSKC Chief of Communicable Disease Epidemiology, cites data on increased COVID emergency department visits and hospitalizations.

Here on Vashon, anecdotal reports to the Vashon EOC validate the PHSKC report, with an uptick in cases that began two months ago. Fortunately, as the PHSKC report indicates, the COVID rates, so far, appear to be much lower than seen during past COVID surges.

Home COVID testing remains a valuable tool because it empowers people to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID.

However, case rate data has been hard to come by since the national state of emergency declaration ended in May. Most of the public health reporting systems were demobilized or scaled back at that time. Even before May, people often did not bother to report the results of their home testing.

“We hope Vashonites will continue to work together to keep each other safe, as they have been doing ever since the pandemic arrived more than three years ago,” said Dr. Zach Miller, an infectious disease expert with the Vashon Medical Reserve Corps. “It’s true that our situation now is much better than we faced at the beginning of the pandemic, but the risk of a COVID infection can be quite high for elders or those with health conditions that make them more susceptible to respiratory infections. There’s also the risk of long COVID for all ages. This recent increase in cases strongly emphasizes how important it is, right now, to mask up when in public indoor spaces.”

One prominent Vashon business has taken prevention to heart.

Vashon Thriftway implemented measures in response to an unusually high number of COVID cases among staff members. All of those who tested positive for COVID are isolating at home and doing well.

All employees are being provided with high-quality masks for use at work, as well as home test kits. Any team member who had contact with an infected staff member is required to test negative before starting their shift.

As a note on the Thriftway website said: “We all hope the pandemic ends soon, but it’s clear that COVID is still with us.”

Two COVID Variants Getting Attention

You probably have heard about two COVID variants that have been getting a lot of media attention recently — EG.5 and BA.2.86.

EG.5 has now become the dominant strain of COVID. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that EG.5 makes up more than 20% of national COVID cases in the United States and it continues to rise.

Experts say that the updated COVID vaccine will be effective against EG.5 because it was developed to protect against previous genetically similar variants. Paxlovid also continues to be effective against EG.5. Fortunately, there’s also consensus among public health officials that EG.5 — nicknamed Eris — is not causing more serious illness than previous variants.

Only a handful of cases have been confirmed worldwide of the new BA.2.86 variant, which also descends from Omicron.

However, BA.2.86 is being closely watched because it has a high number of mutations that might increase the chances of it breaking through immunity acquired from vaccination and previous COVID infections. On the other hand, those mutations could actually end up hindering its spread.

The bottom line: With fewer than a dozen cases confirmed so far, there’s not enough data at this time to project the future risk from BA.2.86.

Vashon Risk Level

The COVID risk level for Vashon remains at Basic, despite the recent wave of increased cases. The available data on COVID hospitalizations and other information so far do not warrant the Elevated Risk level.

At this level, it is recommended to wear an N95 mask indoors in public if you have been exposed to COVID, are at risk for health or other reasons, or live or spend time with someone at high risk.

Plan on getting the updated COVID and flu vaccines in early fall, as detailed above.

Maintain good ventilation at home and at work.

Avoid those with suspected or confirmed COVID. If exposed to COVID, wear a mask in public and avoid contact with those at high risk for 10 days.

Always home-test if you have symptoms. If you test positive, isolate for at least five days and until you test negative. Also check in right away with your doctor about treatment, even if your symptoms are initially mild.

If immunocompromised, discuss additional prevention actions with your healthcare provider.

The VashonBePrepared COVID Risk Advice Tool aggregates data in our exposure area.

That includes King, Pierce, and Kitsap counties, because the island ferry routes generate thousands of round-trips daily to those mainland areas. The primary metric evaluated by the Vashon Medical Reserve Corps is the COVID hospitalization rate because that is reliably reported by public health agencies.