With new COVID boosters now available, here’s what’s changed

Moderna COVID-19 vial before injection.
Moderna COVID-19 vial before injection.(WHSV)
Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 7:56 PM CDT
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (GRAY) – New COVID-19 boosters have been released to the public, and health experts are already advising people get the shots if they’re able.

“This new booster is targeted at the X.BB.1.5 variant,” said Jessica Munroe with the Minnesota Department of Health.

The latest round of vaccines was designed to target the strain that was most prevalent over the summer, but with several new strains quickly emerging across the U.S., XBB.1.5 is no longer the most common subvariant. Still, Munroe says the booster may still be effective.

“There is data that show that it provides some immunity towards some of the more dominant strains right now,” she said.

The differences don’t stop at the shot itself, though. For the first time since its development and public release, the COVID-19 vaccine is not free to the public.

“The federal government is not purchasing the vaccine, and providers are needing to purchase that upfront, which means that people are going to need to utilize their insurance,” Munroe said.

The state has also dialed down its own vaccine clinic operations.

“After the public health emergency ended, and in May, a lot of the resources that we had to address, the pandemic ended,” Munroe said.

Despite decreased accessibility, experts still say the new boosters are important.

“The COVID vaccine definitely should be taken by those at highest risk of complications from COVID. And that includes older people, people with weakened immune systems, very young children,” said Dr. Priya Sampathkumar, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases expert.

MDH hopes to see more people seeking a booster with the recent wave of COVID-19 cases.

“Only about 25% of eligible people receive the last booster, so we’re really hoping that we get better uptake this time,” Munroe said.

MDH says there are financial assistance options available for those without insurance. You can find low-cost locations at https://www.vaccines.gov/.