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Saturday, December 2, 2023
Dec. 2, 2023

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In Our View: Consider updated COVID booster vaccinations

The Columbian

Consider these to be gentle reminders: COVID-19 is still with us, and vaccinations remain the most effective way to avoid the virus.

These facts seem pertinent as infection rates inch upward, as the start of the school year leads to more close-quarter gatherings, and as fall approaches along with an increase of indoor activities. The facts also seem pertinent in the wake of some recent news items.

In one, the U.S. Census Bureau’s ongoing Household Pulse Survey indicates that 44 percent of American adults say they have received a COVID shot in the past 12 months. In Washington, 50.5 percent of adults reported receiving a shot in the past year; 13 percent said they have never received a COVID vaccination.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week recommended holding off on booster shots until mid-September, when an updated vaccine is expected. “If you do get the current COVID-19 vaccine now, or in early September, it could delay your ability to get this updated vaccine that’s coming out in the middle of September. So again, talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner,” CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen said.

Officials say they might recommend that some at-risk Americans receive more than one COVID-19 booster this fall. But the emergence of a new highly mutated variant called BA.2.86, which could drive a renewed wave of infections, might complicate those recommendations.

Which brings us to the second news item of interest. On Aug. 23, the CDC issued a risk assessment summary saying the BA.2.86 variant might be more likely — compared with previous variants — to infect people who have existing immunity to COVID. Such immunity can be realized through vaccinations or prior infections.

Some social media posts have misrepresented this information to say that vaccinated people are more susceptible to the variant than unvaccinated people. That is not what CDC officials said, and the incident represents an immutable truth — if you are receiving your COVID information from social media, you are woefully misinformed.

Meanwhile, the effectiveness and safety of vaccinations and booster shots continues to be demonstrated. This month, the latest report from the state Department of Health noted that throughout July, “Unvaccinated individuals were between 2.2 and 14.9 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to those who received at least one booster dose.”

That is a broad, unspecific range. But it is clear that vaccines reduce the likelihood of severe COVID complications.

Since the beginning of the outbreak in 2020, Washington has consistently ranked among the 10 states with the fewest COVID infections and deaths per capita; it also has ranked high in the percentage of residents who are vaccinated. Those two facts are not mutually exclusive, and recent information about booster shots provides some insight.

As The Seattle Times reports: “The biggest demographic factor in determining the likelihood a person has received a recent COVID booster shot is age. As you’d expect, older people, who are likely more concerned about having serious illness from COVID, are much more likely to have received a shot in the past year than the youngest adults. … Higher income and educational attainment also correlate with a greater likelihood of having received a recent COVID booster.”

All Clark County residents should consider receiving a booster shot when updated vaccines are available next month. After all, COVID is still with us.

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