By Nina Huang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Public Health Seattle & King County is working in partnership with school districts, providers, and community organizations to host free back to school vaccination clinics throughout the summer and into fall. The clinics will provide all vaccinations required to attend public schools, plus COVID-19 vaccinations, free of cost.
Clinics are open to children through age 18 who meet any of the following criteria:
- Live in South King County
- Are uninsured or have insurance that doesn’t cover vaccinations
- Are experiencing homelessness
- Recently moved to the United States and don’t have a medical provider
Andie Lyons, project program manager branch lead for the Childhood and Adolescent Immunization program for Public Health Seattle & King County, shared that South King County is prioritized because there are lower rates of immunization and a higher disease burden.
The following cities make up South King County: Auburn, Burien, Covington, Des Moines, Enumclaw, Federal Way, Kent, Maple Valley, Normandy Park, Renton, Tukwila, SeaTac, White Center/Boulevard Park, and Vashon Island.
According to data provided by Public Health:
Up-to-date, total population:
- King County as a whole – 34%
- Auburn, Kent, and FW – 19%
- Burien, Renton, Tukwila, and Seatac – 26%
Up-to-date, 0-4 years old:
- King County as a whole – 15%
- Auburn, Kent, and FW – 4%
- Burien, Renton, Tukwila, and Seatac – 8%
Up-to-date, 5-11 years old:
- King County as a whole – 20%
- Auburn, Kent, and FW – 6%
- Burien, Renton, Tukwila, and Seatac – 10%
Up-to-date, 12-17 years old:
- King County as a whole – 24%
- Auburn, Kent, and FW – 8%
- Burien, Renton, Tukwila, and Seatac – 13%
This data can also be viewed by “completed primary series,” “received original booster,” and “received updated booster.” Other regions are available for comparison, and total numbers are also available (vs. percentages).
“We find that fewer people are vaccinated there and people who get ill with COVID-19 or other diseases tend to get sicker, so they’re prioritized,” Lyons said.
Some of the reasons for lower rates of immunization could be that there are fewer overall pediatric providers in the area, and there are children who are either experiencing homelessness, underinsured, or uninsured. The population includes those who recently arrived to the area as an immigrant or refugee who may not have a medical provider yet.
“The universal experience in general across all medical providers is that they are overloaded. During the pandemic, people didn’t visit their medical providers and weren’t getting routine care like immunizations. Now things are getting back to a more routine experience and all of the providers are booked out far in advance,” Lyons shared.
Providers like SeaMar and HealthPoint see a lot of different patients, but it can be challenging when there are limited providers who are matched with a huge volume of people. For example, patients will call to schedule a child wellness visit, but it could be months before they can be seen. Docere Center for Natural Medicine, Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, and Stepping Stone Pediatrics are other providers participating in the vaccine clinic.
As shared from Public Health, from April to December 2022, three co-admin grantees vaccinated approximately 2,942 children and conducted a total of 82 vaccine clinics in King County. Comparatively, from January to May 2023, four co-admin grantees have vaccinated approximately 629 children across 25 vaccine clinics in King County.
In that same time period in 2022, grantees administered approximately 5,857 vaccine doses to children in King County. In 2023, during January to May 2023 reporting period, grantees administered approximately 1,200 vaccine doses to children.
Compared to January to April last year, co-admin grantees have vaccinated 371 more students (422, compared to 51 by April 2022), representing a 422% increase.
Importance of getting boosted
Whether you’re six months old or 60 years old, it’s very important to get the most recent bivalent booster that came out last fall. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved use of the bivalent booster in the U.S. on Aug. 31, 2022. The FDA and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will likely release another booster later this year.
Public health spokesperson Kate Cole shared there was an amazing uptake on the first initial COVID-19 vaccines, around 80-90% were vaccinated. But the majority of King County residents haven’t gotten the latest bivalent booster.
A lot of people who originally said yes and received the initial dose are not as protected as they could be.
“Right now, we’re at a much better spot than we have been, in large part due to the effect of boosters. However, COVID-19 is still here and it’s still spreading. Each week, there are people still being hospitalized and dying in King County,” Cole said.
Cole added that Public Health has seen a downturn in childhood immunization rates locally – one of the reasons was that people had to cancel their routine visits during the pandemic. All the more reason to make sure children are fully up to date on shots and to act early since providers’ offices are seeing long waits.
Lyons anticipates that the COVID-19 vaccine will be similar to the flu with an annual update frequency, but they just don’t know yet.
Getting up to date on recommended immunizations
For folks who have just immigrated or moved to King County, it can be difficult to locate vaccination records, and the first point of contact should be their provider to talk through recommendations.
“In general, it isn’t harmful to get another dose of something. The advice is to get the booster even if you’re not sure because getting it again is unlikely for the vast majority of people,” Lyons added.
In addition, based on what’s going to be the easiest or most convenient for a family, it’s absolutely medically OK for kids to get multiple immunizations at the same time, Lyons shared.
It’s common for families to get the recommended immunizations done at a single visit to the provider if that’s already been scheduled.
As parents are getting ready for their kids to go back to school, Public Health recommends making sure the whole family is fully up to date on COVID-19 boosters. In addition, masking up in crowded indoor places, such as an airport, festival, or stadium, is a great time to wear a well-fitting, high quality mask to help protect yourself and others.
Lyons shared that they are seeing a resurgence of diseases like measles – that tend to spread quickly when traveling. It’s also important to stay up to date on all recommended vaccines like MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) to be protected in addition to COVID-19.
Cole also shared that Public Health has a free community health access program that helps people navigate the healthcare system, get enrolled with insurance, and find a provider.
Lyons said that while there is no fee for the back to school vaccine program or COVID-19 vaccines in general, that will change soon.
“Right now, there’s continuing coverage through the federal government, but at the point when it becomes a commercial product, there’s potentially a charge and may depend on each individual provider,” she explained.
Nina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This health series is made possible by funding from the Public Health – Seattle & King County, which has no editorial input or oversight of this content.