Make pre-holiday vaccine appointments early amid run on boosters

Dec 1, 2021, 3:56 PM
A pharmacist administers a Pfizer COVID-19 booster vaccination. (File photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
(File photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

With all adults now eligible for COVID-19 boosters as soon as they hit six months (for Moderna and Pfizer) or two months (for Johnson & Johnson) past the initial dose, and with kids age 5 and up also now able to get the vaccine, county health departments are seeing a rush in vaccine appointments.

“As far as boosters, there has definitely been an increased interest, which is great,” said Heather Thomas, a spokesperson for the Snohomish County Health District. “There’s also an interest with 5-to-11-year-old vaccines.”

Besides the recent announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on booster eligibility, the mathematics of the process are causing some crowding. Those who were initially vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna in April and May as all adults became eligible for the first round of vaccines are now hitting their six months.

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Sharon Bogan with Public Health — Seattle and King County explained in an email that the county is “hitting a peak in those currently eligible for a booster,” with more than 500,000 people now qualifying for the extra shot. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department reported similar challenges.

That means, for many people, finding an appointment has been difficult, especially if a person wants the shot within a few days or within a few miles of home. Some of this has to do with the ongoing shortage of health care workers.

“I know that there’s been some challenges for people getting appointments,” Thomas said. “It’s not necessarily because of the supply of the vaccine, it’s because of the supply of staff to give the vaccine.”

All three county health departments noted that there are still appointments to be had, but people may need to exercise some patience and wait for couple weeks.

“There are appointments available, they just might not be today, they might be a week or two out in the future,” Thomas said. “So just make sure people are planning ahead.”

In response to a KIRO Radio question on Twitter, people generally reported that they had been able to find vaccines but, just as Thomas said, some had to wait a couple of weeks or drive further from home.

The possibility of a two-week wait means that you shouldn’t lose any time in making an appointment — especially if you want your two weeks of time for the booster to kick in to hit by the holidays. Being two weeks past the booster shot on Christmas would require getting vaccinated by Dec. 11.

Luckily, health departments are taking steps to accommodate the surge in demand.

“Unlike when vaccine first became available, today vaccine is available at hundreds of locations across our region, including pharmacies, community health centers, vaccination sites, and health care providers,” Bogan said. “We are working in collaboration with partners to increase capacity given this surge in demand.”

Snohomish County is adding an extra day each week at its Ash Way Park & Ride drive-through clinic in Lynnwood.

State Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said during the Washington State Department of Health‘s Wednesday briefing that the state would be looking at ways to beef up the vaccine infrastructure and address any possible gaps in access.

“We’re willing to do what is necessary to support our system and, ultimately, people in our communities,” Shah said.

Shah pointed out that some of the rush in booster-schedulers may also have to do with people reacting to the omicron variant spreading around the world. However, he reminded people not to panic. First of all, he said, we do not yet know if omicron is more severe, more contagious, or more vaccine-resistant than delta. Second, a person who has already received their first two doses (or single-dose vaccine) is already well-protected, and will not automatically lose all immunity the day that their six or two months are up.

“If you’ve already had your primary vaccination, it is not someone who is starting from zero when you have your first vaccine,” he said. “This is protection that you already have. Over time, like a dial, it starts to come down, but it does not mean that you do not have protection.”

Therefore, Shah advised people to try to get their boosters as soon as they are able — and certainly before any holiday travel or get-togethers — but not to worry if the appointment requires a wait of a couple of weeks. He is hopeful that after this initial surge, we should hit a more manageable level of booster-seekers.

Ultimately, the state department of health’s leaders said that what matters is not which variants are spreading, but that people are diligent about precautions — because no matter which form of COVID is spreading, the same protective measures work. Boosters, especially ahead of the holidays, are a big part of those precautions, along with testing — especially before and after holiday travel — masking indoors, and masking outdoors in crowds, such as at large holiday events.

And since the CDC has approved mixing doses, Shah said, do not be held back by waiting for the kind you got before (waiting for Moderna if you received Moderna the first time, for example), but instead to “take the one that is available.”

Even with a bit of a booster rush right now, health leaders pointed out that this high interest in vaccines is a positive.

“It’s a good thing that people are getting their boosters,” Shah said. “It is making it a little bit harder for people to get them, but it’s a good thing that people are getting them. That’s markedly better than vaccines sitting on a shelf and going unused.”

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Make pre-holiday vaccine appointments early amid run on boosters