Governor, Health Secretary Push COVID-19 Boosters, Ask for Patience

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The recent difficulty for those seeking COVID-19 booster shots will subside and Washington state is well-equipped to track the new omicron variant when it comes to the state, Gov. Jay Inslee says.

During a Thursday press conference, Inslee provided an update on the state’s ongoing pandemic response, the first of such given since discovery of the new variant was announced in South Africa.

Inslee said there is “much we don’t know about omicron” as of the press conference and he expects more information on the variant in the upcoming weeks. Though it had yet to appear in Washington as of the time of the press conference, it’s inevitable the variant will make its way to the state, the governor said.

“But the one thing we know about omicron — and this is a certainty — it makes sense to get vaccinated today no matter what we find out about omicron, because right today we’re threatened by delta,” Inslee said.

The press conference also followed the Nov. 29 announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all individuals eligible based on their vaccination schedule should receive a booster. Inslee said the recent difficulty individuals have faced as they look to receive a booster shot is due to a “temporary bulge” in the prior few days over fears of the new variant.

Washington State Secretary of Health Umair Shah said the increase in those seeking shots is evident in the state’s tools to help residents find a vaccination site.

He said the current influx would smooth out over time.

Inslee mirrored Shah’s analysis of the booster situation.

“It is good news, big time, that tens of thousands of people in the state of Washington have figured out ‘I need to get my booster,’” Inslee said.

He added there isn’t a strict schedule for those who are eligible for a booster to receive it.

“You don’t fall off the cliff if you get (the booster) Tuesday instead of Monday … so people should not panic if they have to wait a week or two or three,” Inslee said.

Inslee said there hasn’t been any serious consideration of requiring a booster as part of the state’s mandates on employees for vaccination.

Regarding the omicron variant, the first case of the mutation in the U.S. was reported the day prior to the press conference in California. Inslee believes the state has adequate genomic sequencing ability to track when the variant makes its way to Washington.

Shah said the state has increased sequencing and surveillance technologies, going from analysis of about 10% of samples to 20 to 25%. He said the state is also prioritizing case investigation and contact tracing, specifically among those coming from countries where the variant has been found.

Shah said “full” genotyping takes five to seven days, while a more rapid form of testing based on the omicron variant’s lack of a specific gene took only a day. He said the latter testing is more of a screening to see if the test is consistent with the variant.

Shah said the state has been investing in its genomic testing throughout the pandemic.

“Our commitment is to continue to increase our capacity while we look for it right now and then certainly over time certainly have the capacity that we’ve had,” Shah said.

Shah also reiterated vaccinations and boosters “not just (because of) omicron, but the fact we are really just coming off of our delta surge,” adding the winter and seasonal respiratory illnesses could be compounding factors.

Inslee said variant surveillance isn’t a danger to Washington residents. Instead, lack of vaccinations is.

“It doesn’t do you much good to know you have this after you’ve got it,” Inslee said.

Hammering the point home, the governor said getting vaccinated is likely one of three options moving forward in the pandemic.

“I heard somebody the other day say this and I think it’s probably correct: (In) the next several months, or maybe the next year, you’re either going to have had COVID, are going to have a vaccination, or you’re going to be dead,” Inslee said. “That’s what the situation is.”