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CDC director visits Arlington Free Clinic to promote vaccines during flu season

As flu season ramps up, the director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stopped by the Arlington Free Clinic today to rally the healthcare troops.

Dr. Mandy Cohen stopped in Arlington on Tuesday as part of a nationwide tour aimed at boosting vaccinations for Covid and other illnesses, including the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), while reminding healthcare workers why it is crucial to urge patients to get their vaccinations.

“We know that folks are tired of all things Covid and vaccines and the whole thing,” she told a room full of nurses and staff Tuesday. “So, you need to bring the extra energy this season to make sure that folks know how important it is to still get vaccines, to still get protected. We don’t want fatigue to be the reason that folks aren’t protected.”

The visit also coincided with a clinic vaccination event in which 75 of the clinic’s more than 1,300 patients — all of whom are uninsured — rolled up their sleeves for Covid, RSV and flu shots.

Many live in the 22204 zip code, which is where the clinic is located and which has “one of the largest populations of uninsured people in the county,” Arlington Free Clinic Director of Clinical Services Surekha Cohen told ARLnow.

During her remarks, the CDC director cautioned that the effectiveness of previous vaccines can wane as the virus evolves, though nearly 97% of the U.S. population currently has some level of immunity to Covid — either from past infections or vaccinations.

“I think everyone is wishing Covid would be gone but it is still here with us. Unfortunately, the virus has changed and your protection from past vaccines has decreased over time. So, it’s really important to get your updated Covid vaccine and your flu shot,” Dr. Mandy Cohen told ARLnow.

As of Tuesday, about 30% of Arlington’s resident population is up to date on its Covid vaccinations, according to the Virginia Dept. of Health (VDH).

Cohen says the U.S. is already starting to see a steady uptick in both cases and deaths.

“We went through a summer wave where we had 30,000 to 40,000 people in the hospital per week in the United States,” she said, adding that Virginia saw 295 Covid-related deaths in just the last three months.

Arlington experienced a brief spike in Covid cases last month, but the numbers have started to trend down from the summer high, per VDH data. As of today, the state health department is reporting a seven-day average of a little more than seven daily cases in the county.

This past week there were 71 Covid-related hospital admissions across Arlington, according to CDC data.

Covid cases in Arlington over the past three months, as of Oct. 24, 2023 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

Although the numbers have dipped, Cohen noted the use of at-home rapid tests may mask Virginia’s actual number of cases.

That is because Covid cases are not being reported to health departments as consistently as earlier in the pandemic, in part due to the availability of at-home tests.

She argued it is essential for older adults and children to stay on their guard in case Covid and other types of respiratory diseases, including RSV, start to surge again this winter.

“There were a lot of babies who were in the hospital last year with RSV, so we definitely want to protect our babies with the tools that we have,” Cohen told the room full of Arlington Free Clinic staff.

“But it starts with you all protecting yourselves right and your families,” she continued. “So, make sure that you’re getting vaccinated so you can be your your best and healthiest selves as you work hard for the community.”

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