What will virus season look like in Washington state this year?
Washington state is once again heading into respiratory virus season.
Last year, the triple threat of Covid-19, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) put a strain on an already fragile health-care system.
This year however, health officials say the state is in a different place.
“We’ve got a lot of new tools this season,” said state epidemiologist, Dr. Scott Lindquist, during a media briefing Friday.
Those tools include new treatments, surveillance methods, and vaccines.
“For the first time we have a vaccine against all three of these diseases,” said state secretary of health, Dr. Umair Shah, “which is just amazing.”
An updated Covid-19 vaccine was recently approved and recommended by federal regulators for everyone aged 6 months and older.
The seasonal flu vaccine remains recommended for those 6 months and older as well.
And new vaccines against RSV are now licensed and recommended for adults aged 60 and older, as well as for infants.
“Concerns remain that an increase in cases from all, or one, of these respiratory viruses will lead to challenges in our communities and our health-care system,” Shah said. "We want people to take the precautions now because that's going to help our health-care system.”
Health officials are urging everyone eligible for these vaccines to get them, but they have particularly stressed the importance of immunization for those most at risk of severe illness from these viruses, including older adults, people with underlying health conditions, and young children.
Covid-19 hospitalizations have ticked up again in Washington in recent months, although they remain well below the peaks seen in past years.
Flu and RSV season have not yet truly started in the state.
Vaccines will become more available in Washington over the coming weeks, and health officials urge people to be patient.
Supply of the updated Covid-19 shots may be limited at first, especially since this is the first rollout of Covid vaccines since they were commercialized.
However, officials say there will be more than enough to go around over the next couple of months.
State data shows just over 25% of eligible Washingtonians are up to date with the previously released Covid-19 booster shots.
Coverage varies among different age groups, with the highest uptake among adults over 60.
In addition to vaccination, health officials want people to keep lessons learned during the pandemic top of mind.
They say steps such as masking, testing, and staying home while sick remain important.