SAN JUAN COUNTY, WA. September 11, 2023 – The new COVID-19 booster vaccine is heavily anticipated. As of publication, Health & Community Services is the only entity in San Juan County planning to offer the updated booster this fall. We have been planning our fall mass vaccination clinics since early summer to ensure as smooth a process as possible as we work to get these vaccines out to our community. However, there are still many unknowns that are affecting our ability to finalize our fall COVID-19 booster clinic plans.
This Hot Topic will focus on the things we do know, and it will also give you an overview of the things we still don’t know, which are affecting our ability to confirm clinic details. We are so proud to serve our islands and are doing all we can to ensure that our residents are able to receive this important vaccine.
When will the new COVID-19 booster be available?
The new COVID-19 booster is expected to be approved by the end of this month. However, due to manufacturing and shipping delays, we will not be able to have our first round of mass vaccination clinics until November. We placed our order well in advance, but all this has done is ensure that we are in line to receive the vaccine. It did not guarantee a delivery date.
That doesn’t mean that it won’t be available anywhere though. Large retail pharmacies on the mainland (e.g., Costco, Walgreens, CVS, etc.) are expected to receive their vaccine orders first. Those who can travel to the mainland are encouraged to do so to receive their vaccine, particularly if you want it sooner than HCS can provide. Large retail pharmacies are also able bill insurance for the COVID-19 immunization. HCS is not able to bill insurance of any kind. We recommend that you call the retail pharmacy or check their website to confirm vaccine availability prior to traveling off-island to get the vaccine.
Why aren’t there more options on the islands?
In general, other Local Health Jurisdictions (i.e., health departments) and medical provider organizations across the state are not ordering vaccine for their patients. This is in large part due to the uncertainty of cost reimbursement from insurance companies. We hope that other medical provider organizations within the county will be able to offer the vaccine locally once reimbursement rules are amended (after FDA approval).
Why isn’t the COVID-19 vaccine free anymore?
When the public health emergency declaration ended on May 11, it meant that the federal government would no longer purchase vaccine. Now vaccine providers are responsible for purchasing the vaccine directly. Our plan to provide the vaccine this fall comes with a hefty price tag. Since HCS is not an in-network provider for any insurance and operates outside of the traditional medical billing system, all the vaccine we purchase will be at our own expense. We have one-time grant funds to help us cover the expense at this time. Despite our efforts to reduce the cost, we anticipate spending over $100 per dose of vaccine. This is on top of the expense of running mass clinics, which includes ensuring that we have qualified professionals, supplies to ensure safe administration of the vaccine, and space rented out to hold the clinics.
This will be the last round of mass clinics that HCS is able to provide. We are filling the need for COVID-19 boosters during this uncertain transition period in an attempt to allow our local medical provider organizations to figure out insurance reimbursement for this new vaccine. But the price tag is unsustainable for SJC to be able to continue to offer the vaccine on an ongoing basis. In the future we will only be able to offer COVID-19 vaccines to children and adults who are uninsured, much as we do with flu vaccines and other routine vaccines.
The reason we are committed to holding these clinics this fall, despite the cost, is that there is a community need. It is our duty to protect the health of the public in San Juan County and this vaccine is one important method of protection against COVID-19. We are hopeful that amended insurance agreements with medical provider organizations will encourage more local entities to provide vaccine for their patients in the future.
When will I be able to schedule my appointment?
Once we have shipment confirmation, we will open registration for the November clinics on our website. People can expect registration to open sometime in October, which we will advertise on our website and in a press release.
The November clinics will be open to all islanders 6 years and older (pending FDA approval for pediatric COVID-19 booster vaccinations). If FDA approval is still pending at the time of our November clinics, vaccine appointments will be for ages 12 years and older.
I can’t wait until November. What should I do?
We know how frustrating this news is. We don’t enjoy being the messengers. If you can travel to the mainland, we hope there will be ample vaccine supply at the major retail pharmacies (e.g., Costco, Walgreens, CVS, Rite-aid, etc.). Check on your preferred pharmacy’s website or give them a call to see when they expect to start opening appointments. You can also search for current vaccine availability on vaccines.gov.
For those unable to travel, we sincerely apologize that we are not able to expedite this process. Believe us, we have tried.
What about the flu vaccine or RSV shot?
We will be offering the flu vaccines to all children through the age of 18 years and to adults who are uninsured or underinsured in November. Adults with insurance should contact their medical provider or a local pharmacy to schedule their flu shot. You can also get flu vaccines from one of the large retail pharmacies on the mainland.
We are not currently able to offer the RSV vaccine. We will message publicly if this changes. Those interested in the RSV vaccine should contact their medical provider or look to receive the vaccine on the mainland.
The continuous lesson from COVID-19 is how resilient islanders are. Nothing about the COVID-19 response has been easy or simple, and yet we have persevered as a County and as a community. This is just one more growing pain as our systems catch up to the needs of the community. Thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate this space together. We’ve got this, islanders.
Kyra Jahanfar, Program Coordinator – Emergency Preparedness & Communications, email@example.com, 360-370-7502
About San Juan County’s Department of Health & Community Services
San Juan County’s Department of Health & Community Services is responsible for community and environmental health, mental health and substance abuse programs, senior services, affordable housing projects, and more. The department has staff and offices on Lopez, Orcas, and San Juan Islands. For more information about San Juan County’s Department of Health & Community Services, visit www.sanjuanco.com/1777/Health-Community-Services.