Minnesota to begin administering Pfizer booster shots to those eligible

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On Friday, following the federal guidance issued from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Gov. Tim Walz announced that the state will begin administering Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots to Minnesotans who are eligible to receive one.

Minnesotans who got the Pfizer vaccine can get a booster shot at least six months after their initial series if they fall into certain categories, including those 65 and older and others with underlying medical conditions.

Specifically, those who are 65 and older living in a long-term care setting should receive a booster, and those who fall between the ages of 50 and 64 with underlying medical conditions should also receive a booster.

Otherwise, those who are ages 18 to 49 with underlying medical conditions may, but aren’t asked, to receive a booster, as well as those who are between ages 18 and 64 who are at an increased risk for virus exposure and transmission because of an occupational or institutional setting. Some examples include frontline medical workers, teachers and first responders.

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The Minnesota Department of Health said there is no specific guidance on which occupations are considered "high-risk."

"Unlike before, there’s not going to be this very detailed list of who’s and who’s out," said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked if Minnesotans will have to show any proof of being in an authorized group in order to receive a booster shot, such as a job credential.

"There is not a validation system required or expected. People can self-attest to their occupation, their health conditions," Malcolm responded.

A list of medical conditions categorized as high-risk by the CDC can be found here. Minnesotans with underlying medical conditions are encouraged to speak with their health care providers about whether a booster is right for them.

“We know that the more risk factors you have, the higher risk you are for getting a severe case of COVID,” KSTP Medical Expert Dr. Archelle Georgiou said. “Under the age of 50 we know the severity of COVID really varies and if you have mild hypertension maybe you’re high-risk or maybe you’re not, if you’re a diabetic maybe you’re at high-risk or maybe you’re not. So it’s in that younger population where people should have conversations with their physicians because it’s not a one size fits all.”

Georgiou said those eligible should try to make an appointment.

“This is not an emergency [but] it’s urgent because your antibody levels are probably decreasing month by month so if you’re eligible go ahead and figure out where you can get your booster shot and get it sooner rather than later,” she said.

Some pharmacies announced Friday they will begin offering booster shots immediately nationwide, including Walgreens and CVS.

Georgiou explained it’s important to wait to get a booster shot until you fall under an eligible group.

“I always follow the science and the science tell us that if you’re over 65, if you have a chronic illness, if you’re immune-compromised, the benefits of the vaccine and especially the booster are going to outweigh any risks that the vaccine might have,” she said. “But especially if you’re younger and especially if you’re under the age of 30, we really don’t have good science to say the risks outweigh the benefits. The risk we worry about, while rare, in the under 30-year-old population is heart inflammation […] So even if the pharmacy lets you get your booster shot, really don’t necessarily rush to do that unless you’re in the category eligible.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to local health care systems for an update on their plans to roll out booster shots.

HealthPartners said it will begin scheduling them next week for certain eligible groups.

A spokesperson provided the following statement:

"Similar to our process when COVID vaccines first became available, we’ll reach out to patients who are eligible for a booster dose via email, notifying them that they can schedule an appointment. However, eligible patients don’t need to wait for an email to schedule an appointment, and should feel free to seek boosters at pharmacies and state-run vaccine sites."

Federal health experts are still reviewing data from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. A decision will be made when recipients are eligible for a booster shot.

"Our administration will always prioritize the health and safety of Minnesotans — and right now that means getting our highest risk Minnesotans booster doses to keep their protection strong against the COVID-19 virus," Walz said in a statement. "We will begin giving boosters to Minnesotans who are eligible, which will help maximize protection for the most at-risk Minnesotans. We have enough vaccine to administer first, second, and booster doses — and I urge every eligible Minnesotan to take advantage of these easy, safe, and free opportunities to keep yourself best protected against this deadly virus."

Numbers released Friday show the state is still in the grips of COVID-19. Nearly 3,000 new cases were reported Friday, and 27 newly reported deaths were noted. A total of 8,076 Minnesotans have died of the virus since the pandemic began.

"We stand at a level which, to me, is totally unacceptable. We have way more deaths and hospitalizations than anybody could possibly find acceptable," said Dr. Frank Rhame, an infectious diseases physician at Allina Health’s Abbott Northwestern Hospital. "I can tell you, from the vantage point of a health care system, we’re stressed and we’re at the limits of our capacity."

State health officials expect there will be recommendations for a Moderna booster shot within a few weeks, followed by Johnson & Johnson.

For now, Georgiou said, "Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are still going to protect you against severe disease."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.