Minnesotans are seeking the newest COVID-19 vaccine boosters as they prepare for the long fall and winter virus season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave approvals to new boosters in mid-September, allowing millions of doses to be shipped to pharmacies, hospitals and other providers.
That’s welcome news for people with disabilities, who health conditions can make them more vulnerable to illness.
Anyone who has not received a COVID-19 vaccine in the past two months should get an updated vaccine to protect themselves this fall and winter, according to public health officials.
The vaccines are for peoples ages six months and older. But if online forums and news accounts are any indication, finding vaccines is easier said than done. The Minneapolis Vaccines Hunters Facebook group, which was set up by volunteers a few years ago to provide tips for vaccine seekers, has had several posts from frustrated families whose children could not get vaccines yet. Some children were taken to appointments, only to be told that vaccines weren’t available.
Another issue that Minnesotans must check is whether or not vaccines are covered by their health insurance providers. Most insurance will cover vaccine costs.
People who don’t have health insurance or are with health plans that do not cover the costs can get a free vaccine from their local health centers, or state, local, tribal or territorial health departments. Pharmacies participating in the CDC’s Bridge Access Program are another resource. Children eligible for the Vaccines for Children program may also receive the vaccine from a provider enrolled in that program.
The Minnesota Department of Health offers resources to help people without insurance to find vaccines, at Where to Get Vaccinated.
Another resource is the COVID-19 Hotline at 1-833-431-2053. Or try Vaccines.gov to find other locations for free vaccines to people who don’t have insurance.
“We have more tools than ever to prevent the worst outcomes from COVID-19,” said CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen, in a news release announcing her official signoff. “CDC is now recommending updated COVID-19 vaccination for everyone six months and older to better protect you and your loved ones.”
COVID-19 vaccines and the people who need them face the same challenges that flu vaccines and their recipients face. Flu vaccines are designed for what quickly can become the previously prevalent strain of disease. By the time a new flu season rolls around, new variants have likely emerged.
The current COVID-19 booster was designed to fight a variant called XBB1.5, which has waned in its spread. The new boosters have been found to be generally effective against the new-commonly circulating variants of EG5 and FL 1.5.1, and against the emerging BA.2.86 variants. The constantly shifting variants illustrate the issues faced as medical science tries to keep up with a rapidly shifting disease.
The new vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna arrived as COVID-19 numbers climbed in Minnesota. The CD and state health officials remind everyone that vaccination remains the best protections against COVID-19-related hospitalization and death. Vaccines also reduce the chance of suffering the effects of Long COVID, which can develop during or following acute infection and last for an extended duration.
Long Covid sufferers deal with an array of conditions including fatigue and what is called “brain fog.”
Receiving an updated COVID-19 vaccine can restore protection and provide enhanced safeguards against the variants currently responsible for most infections and hospitalizations in the United States. Last season, those who received a 2022-2023 COVID-19 vaccine saw greater protection against illness and hospitalization than those who did not receive a vaccine to date. Hundreds of millions of people have safely gotten a vaccine under what health officials describe as the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.
This is the first fall and winter season in which vaccines are available for three viruses cited for causing the most hospitalizations: COVID-19, flu and RSV. In addition to safe vaccines, at-home COVID-10 tests can identify infection so that people can protect family, friends and coworkers from disease.
The federal government and the Minnesota Department of Health offer free tests.
The state link to order tests is Order Your Free At-Home Rapid Tests
The federal link is COVID.gov
Access Press provides coverage of COVID-19 through a grant from the Minnesota Department of Health.