MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) Minnesota ranks second in the country for booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 30% receiving additional shots as experts compete to understand a new viral variant and dull its effect.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday strengthened its recommendation that everyone 18 years or older should get the booster six months after receiving Pfizer and Moderna, respectively, or two months after Johnson & Johnson. The agency had previously said that older adults “should” get the booster, while the rest of the adults “must” get shot.
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“The recent advent of the Omicron variant further underscores the importance of vaccination, boosters and preventive measures to protect against COVID-19,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said experts are still learning about Omicron, such as how it interacts with vaccinated people and the severity of the disease it causes. But he said the early evidence is clear and worrying.
“It’s very contagious, will probably knock Delta out to become what I basically call ‘the king of the virus tray,'” Osterholm said.
There are no confirmed cases of Omicron in Minnesota or the United States, but Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the state has the capacity to track the new strain.
“Minnesota has built one of the country’s strongest genomic sequencing and variant monitoring systems,” Malcolm said in a statement. “If there is an Omicron variant infection in Minnesota, we will share that information as soon as possible.”
Osterholm described boosters as “very important” in this phase of the virus, noting that more than two-thirds of Americans who completed their initial vaccine series before June 1 have been delayed for booster shots and have not received them.
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“We are actually becoming more susceptible or vulnerable to this virus,” Osterholm said. “So we need to get these people vaccinated as well as continue to focus on the first doses for those who have never been vaccinated.”
Data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows Minnesota’s booster numbers of 30%, which trend above the national average of 20.5% of all vaccinated has received an extra dose.
Nearly 70% of Minnesota residents eligible for the vaccine – five years and older – have at least one shot, according to the state Department of Health.
The news of Omicron comes as Minnesota continues to fight an increase in COVID-19 with infection rates higher than most states in the nation. Hospitals here are facing a two-front war – patients suffering from coronavirus and others facing critical non-COVID care needs – with fewer staff to deal with it.
The federal government sent last week to emergency military teams to ease some of the burden.
Dr. Beth Thielen, an infectious disease physician at M Health Fairview, noted that the Delta variant is what causes the strain on hospitals. She said the Omicron variant is “worrying”, but warned not to panic.
“We’ve kind of been waiting to see where these variants show up,” Thielen said. “So I do not think it’s particularly surprising given how much COVID we’re seeing right now.”
She, like other public health experts, doubled the importance of vaccinations because of their protection against serious illness and death.
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“Even if you’m unlucky and get a breakthrough infection, you’re likely to be significantly protected from getting a bad result if you’ve been vaccinated,” she said.
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