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Fairfax County to get updated COVID-19 vaccines amid surge in illness

COVID-19 cases reported in the Fairfax Health District over the past year, as of Sept. 14, 2023 (via VDH)

(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) A new batch of COVID-19 vaccines is on the way, as the disease appears to be surging once again.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday (Sept. 14) that it recommends everyone 6 months and older get the shots, which have been updated to provide improved protection against the variants fueling the current rise in illness and hospitalizations.

Slated to become available this week, the new vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are rolling out in time to coincide with the annual fall flu shot season, an approach that the Fairfax County Health Department supports.

“People are able to get the flu shot and the updated COVID-19 vaccine together and this fall (September or October) is a good time to be protected against these illnesses as people spend more time indoors and viruses may be more apt to spread,” FCHD spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said by email.

With Covid no longer considered a federal health emergency, the updated vaccines are the first ones not being allocated by the government. Instead, doctor’s offices, pharmacies and other providers must order them directly, making it less clear when they’ll become available.

The FCHD advises residents to check vaccines.gov or contact their doctor, pediatrician or local pharmacy to see if they’ll have the vaccine. Retail pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS have said that appointments will become available through their websites this week.

The cost of the vaccines is covered by private insurance, along with Medicare and Medicaid. The roughly 7% of Fairfax County residents who aren’t insured should be able to get the shots for free from providers participating in the CDC’s Bridge Access program, according to the FCHD.

The county health department also anticipates obtaining a vaccine supply later this month, Caldwell says. Residents of the Fairfax Health District, which also includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, will be able to make an appointment by calling 703-246-7100.

Caldwell noted that the health department’s supply is typically reserved for individuals who don’t have a primary care provider or another option for getting vaccinated. It also doesn’t accept private insurance as payment, though it’s in-network for Medicaid.

“Staying up to date and getting the new, updated vaccine is important,” the FCHD said. “The virus continues to evolve and protection against it from previous vaccination decreases over time. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is a safer, more reliable way to build protection than getting sick with COVID-19. Getting vaccinated also reduces your chances of getting long COVID, which can last weeks, months, and even years, after initial illness.”

About 80% of Fairfax Health District residents 6 months and older — or 942,180 people — completed their initial round of vaccinations, according to FCHD data. About 50% of that population has received at least three doses, but just 25.7% got the most recent booster.

People should wait two months after their last Covid shot or two to three months after an infection before getting the updated vaccine, according to the FCHD.

After a relatively quiet spring and early summer, Fairfax County has seen an increase in Covid since July, including upticks in hospitalizations, emergency department visits and outbreaks, the health department says.

As of Sept. 2, the county admitted 52 new hospital patients with Covid over that week, a 15.6% increase over the preceding week for a hospitalization rate of 2.6 people per 100,000 residents, according to the CDC.

As of Tuesday, the Fairfax Health District was averaging 111.7 cases over the past seven days — case levels not seen since February, per Virginia Department of Health data.

The FCHD says it has been “closely tracking emergency department visits and hospitalizations from COVID-19 and identifying and investigating clusters of cases in schools, long-term care facilities, and other settings.”

“FCHD has the ability to scale up resources if necessary,” Caldwell said. “But the optimal situation is for people in our community to get the updated COVID-19 vaccine and take other measures that reduce the spread of illness, like good handwashing, so that we can prevent or mitigate a possible surge.”

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