Public health director encourages COVID booster shots

Published 9:00 pm Friday, September 16, 2022

The return of pumpkin-flavored everything signals the return of fall, and with fall comes the return of cooler weather. And with cooler weather comes the return of vaccination season.

Sue Yost

Besides flu shots, this year will mark the second time COVID boosters are available.

According to Sue Yost, public health director and community health services administrator for Freeborn County, anyone who had their last COVID booster more than two months ago should strongly consider getting another. Boosters were part of the COVID vaccine as well as part of the omicron vaccine. She also said COVID booster shots were likely to be similar to regular flu shots: a yearly fall occurrence and serve to “reboost the system” and remind the body to protect you.

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This year’s booster is different from last year’s in that it’s bivalent. According to the FDA, a bivalent includes an mRNA component of the original strain and helps provide an immune response against COVID and the mRNA component between omicron variants.

The Pfizer booster is available to people 12 and older, while the Moderna is available for those 18 and over.

And while she admitted people who received their initial vaccine were less likely to become severely sick, it was best to get booster shots to prevent getting ill from the Omicron variant and ending up in a hospital. Because older booster shots did not contain Omicron, they did not prevent people from getting Omicron.

“The new booster has Omicron in it,” she said. “Any of the boosters that were given before did not have anything against the Omicron variant, and so yes, they definitely should consider getting a booster.” 

On another note, Yost said flu season could be bad this year.

“It’s my understanding that in the southern hemisphere where Australia is, that they had a really bad flu season,” she said. “And typically if they’ve had a bad flu season then that carries over to the northern hemisphere when we have our flu season. 

“So my prediction is that it’s a very good possibility that we’re going to have a very bad flu season.”

But make no mistake: COVID is not the same as the flu.

“COVID, they’ve found, affects the entire body systems, and can affect the heart, it can affect the lungs and can have permanent damage,” she said. “The flu, influenza, you have the illness and then you recover completely from it typically.”

Yearly COVID boosters would help prevent developing COVID in the first place, which causes permanent, long-COVID that would impact a person for the rest of their life. Getting a booster would also help prevent someone who had COVID from exposing the virus to people with lowered immune systems.

She also noted people could get their flu and COVID shots at the same time, those preferably in different arms.

Yost said COVID boosters were available at Hy-Vee as well as Walgreens. Anyone interested could also call the pharmacy at Mayo Clinic Albert Lea. Freeborn County Public Health will have booster shots available starting next week (the week starting Sept. 19). People should call their pharmacies to ensure it’s available.