Created: November 19, 2021 11:34 PM
It’s booster Friday.
“This is a milestone day,” says Dr. Frank Rhame, an infectious disease physician with Allina Health. “We and other health agencies I know are doing the same thing, trying to get this ramped up as broadly as possible.”
Federal agencies, including the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control — along with Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health — gave the go-ahead for COVID-19 booster shots for anyone 18 and older.
The decision paves the way for tens of millions of Americans to get an extra dose of protection, heading into the holidays.
It comes as Minnesota is seeing a big surge in cases.
Hospital beds are in a critical shortage, health officials say.
MDH says there’s just one staffed ICU bed available in the metro as of Friday night.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm says the timing of the rollout is critical.
"So we're grateful this is happening before the holiday,” she says. "We are convinced that some of the surge we're seeing right now has something to do with waning immunity and the large number of people who were vaccinated more than six months ago."
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky tweeted out that “booster shots… are an important health tool to strengthen our defenses as we enter the winter holiday.”
But there was some important language in Friday’s announcement: a CDC panel says adults "may" opt for a booster depending on their individual benefits and risks, while those fifty or older "should" get a booster.
Dr. Jill Foster, M Health Fairview’s director of pediatric infectious diseases, says the pandemic is still a threat.
"Right now in Minnesota, we're number one in the country for rates of COVID. Everybody has to be really careful,” she explains.
The CDC says over 26% of fully vaccinated adults in Minnesota — about 846,000 people — have already received their first booster.
The health agency says the state is second in the country for booster coverage for adults, behind Vermont, and about 1.7 million Minnesota adults who haven’t gotten a booster are now eligible for it.
"As bad as it is right now in Minnesota, it would be even worse without a vaccine,” Foster says. “It’s important for everyone to be vaccinated for themselves and try to protect the people they're around, whether they know them or don't know them."
The rollout this time will be different.
There won’t be MDH-operated clinics like the one at Mall of America.
Instead, the health department says it’s relying on its existing provider network.
“Minnesota has an extensive network of vaccine providers,” MDH said in a released statement. “Pharmacies, health care systems, community clinics, local public health care agencies, and tribal agencies administering the vaccine. So there are plenty of ways Minnesotans can get their booster shot.”
Health experts say you may need to shop around to get an appointment or find a walk-in clinic that can help you.
The health department has a link to help find providers or walk-in clinics available here.
Foster says people shouldn’t worry about the vaccine supply.
"There's a lot of vaccine around because a lot of people haven't gotten their vaccine yet,” she notes. “Also, we had a chance to stock up on it, pretty much anticipating this was going to happen. We have plenty of vaccine for people who want it."
But how soon can you get it?
Some health care providers say they’ve been preparing for the expanded booster eligibility by making changes to electronic records and scheduling systems.
Allina Health, for example, says patients could probably start scheduling booster appointments early next week.
M Health Fairview says right now, it doesn’t have any special clinics scheduled, but is planning to make boosters available at clinic and pharmacy locations as soon as possible.
“[It’s] difficult to get everybody vaccinated really fast,” Rhame explains. “In the grand scheme of things, getting most newly eligible people vaccinated in the next couple of weeks is a pretty good achievement."
The CDC says you can mix and match boosters — so if you got a Pfizer vaccine the first time, it’s okay to get a Moderna shot for a booster.
For those needing the Johnson and Johnson booster — that shot has been already approved for those 18 and older.
The recommended wait for that booster is just two months, instead of six for Pfizer and Moderna.
Foster says if you have questions about boosters, talk to your doctor and consider the choices ahead during the holidays.
"The more you can protect yourself, the better,” she says. “Protect yourself with vaccine, protect yourself with face coverings and really think if you want to be in a crowd right now, with people with unknown vaccine status."
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