Daily Press (Sunday)

Health officials: Keep vaccinated

Virginians urged to get COVID shots ahead of flu season

- By Hollyann Purvis

RICHMOND — The majority of Virginians are not up-to-date with the latest coronaviru­s vaccine due to vaccine fatigue, which has medical experts concerned with a looming triple threat of respirator­y viruses.

Less than 20% of Virginians are up to date with their COVID-19 shots, according to the Virginia Department of Health. This number is a large decrease from the 74% vaccinated with the primary series of shots. The vaccine is updated, like the flu shot, to handle new variants.

Vaccine fatigue occurs when the public loses interest in inoculatio­ns in general, according to Gonzalo Bearman, chief of infectious diseases at Virginia Commonweal­th University.

“I’m seeing that in the clinic, with fewer people interested in discussing vaccines at times, and whether it’s COVID vaccines, flu vaccines, or even RSV vaccines,” Bearman said.

People whose vaccines have lapsed are more susceptibl­e to current strains, according to Bearman.

“This is a particular­ly alarming trend because we have increasing COVID-19 activity in the community right now,” Bearman said.

The COVID-19 vaccine has entered into the “traditiona­l health care marketplac­e,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There are now more ways to distribute, acquire and pay for the vaccine, including private and public pay.

“You have a lot more moving pieces when the U.S. government isn’t controllin­g the entire process,” said Christy Gray, director of the VDH Division of Immunizati­on. “Now you have a lot more different points of failure that can happen.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention establishe­d the Bridge Access Program to provide coronaviru­s vaccinatio­ns to uninsured or underinsur­ed adults at no cost, according to their website. The CDC estimated this number to be 25 to 30 million adults.

Over 90% of adults received at least one monovalent COVID-19 vaccine in the first year after its rollout, according to Gray. But that was followed by a decrease in people getting the bivalent vaccine in 2022.

Groups who are most vulnerable to severe illnesses of COVID are still getting vaccines, Gray said.

“Fatigue makes sense because society wants to go back to normal everyday life before the pandemic,” Gray said. “And we can — this is just another vaccine that we want to consider in our going into respirator­y season.”

Respirator­y viruses spread more in the fall and winter due to colder weather, more time indoors and increased socializat­ion, Gray said.

Decreased vaccinatio­n rates can also be attributed to a lack of accessibil­ity, according to Bel KellyRusso, a program associate at ImmunizeVA, a project of the Institute for Public Health and Innovation.

It boils down to access: securing an appointmen­t and affording the shot,

Kelly-Russo said.

“I would say that there’s fatigue, kind of, on the system itself,” Kelly-Russo said, including confusion around vaccine billing and distributi­on.

For example, pediatric offices face high costs to store vaccines for those under 5, which have lower COVID-19 vaccinatio­n rates, according to Kelly-Russo.

“If the vaccines are not used, they go to waste, and then that creates the impression that there isn’t a demand for those vaccines,” she said. “When in reality, there is a demand, but it’s just hard for parents to locate the vaccines because not everyone’s stocking it.”

There also is personal hesitancy.

“I try to come from a place of understand­ing,” she said. “A lot of times those fears feel very real to people, and so just validating the way that people are feeling in the moment.”

STEPHEN ?? There are now more ways to distribute, acquire and pay for the COVID-19 vaccine, including private and public pay.
M. KATZ/STAFF FILE STEPHEN There are now more ways to distribute, acquire and pay for the COVID-19 vaccine, including private and public pay.

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