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Fall/winter vaccinations lag in WA, infant RSV doses in short supply

Man with face mask getting vaccinated, coronavirus, covid-19 and vaccination concept.
Shutterstock/Courtesy National Institutes of Health
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Man with face mask getting vaccinated, coronavirus, covid-19 and vaccination concept.

Fewer Washingtonians are getting vaccinated for both coronavirus and flu this year, compared to last year.

Speaking to state lawmakers in Olympia last week, Lacy Fehrenbach of the Washington Department of Health said a little more than one million Washingtonians have gotten this year’s formulation of the Covid-19 booster shot. That’s just 13 percent of the state’s population – lower than health officials had hoped.

Fehrenbach noted that vaccination rates tend to vary by age, but all age groups were lagging behind health officials' ideal rates.

“[You're] more likely to be vaccinated if you are older," Fehrenbach said. "We have more than of one-third of our people sixty-five and older vaccinated, so that is good. But we’d like to see higher rates among all ages.”

Fehrenbach said about 2,000,000 people have gotten their flu shot, roughly two percent less than at this time last year. She said that figure should also be higher.

During the same hearing, Dr. Tao Kwan Gett, Washington’s chief science officer, said that vaccines can save lives, but only if people actually get them.

Vaccinations for a third illness, Respiratory Syncytial Virus, are available for the first time this year. They are especially recommended for people 60 and older, and infants. While Fehrenbach said the availability of adult doses was "decent," she told lawmakers supplies of infant RSV shots are low, making it hard for parents to actually get their children immunized.

“We have in our state about enough vaccine to provide to about a third of those who would be eligible." Fehrenbach said. "So we are working with providers to really encourage use of vaccine during pregnancy to help address that shortage.”

Fehrenbach says most of the 23,000 infant doses in Washington have already been spoken for. It is possible that a few more will arrive before the holidays, but there are no specifics yet.

Less than 13 percent of eligible adults in the state have received an RSV shot.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.