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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Lagging interest in COVID boosters could spark new virus wave this fall

David Colburn
Posted 8/10/22

REGIONAL—More than two-thirds of Minnesotans may have completed their initial vaccinations against COVID-19, but the state’s residents have lagged considerably when it comes to getting …

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Lagging interest in COVID boosters could spark new virus wave this fall

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REGIONAL—More than two-thirds of Minnesotans may have completed their initial vaccinations against COVID-19, but the state’s residents have lagged considerably when it comes to getting their recommended boosters, and that increases the chances of a coronavirus surge in the weeks ahead.
While 3.7 million Minnesotans, 67.3 percent of the total population, have completed a vaccine series of the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines, Minnesota Department of Health data indicates that only 31.5 percent are up to date with the recommended booster shots. That’s consistent with the situation across the nation, where only 32-percent of residents are up to date with their boosters.
The COVID seven-day-case average in St. Louis County has consistently hovered between 48 and 58 since mid-June, roughly twice as high as in March and well above the summer lows in 2020 and 2021. The highly contagious Omicron B.5 variant, which is currently causing about 90 percent of new infections, is to blame. B.5 has mutations that allow it to evade immunity more easily, whether induced by vaccines or prior COVID infections. Immunized people still have less serious health issues and fewer deaths than those who haven’t been immunized, but health officials have expressed concern that hospitalizations and deaths could tick upward again heading into the fall, unless more Americans get their boosters.
The Timberjay no longer reports zip code level case data for the North Country because both the state and county health departments have stopped reporting it. That’s due to the uncertainty introduced by now-widespread home testing, the results of which are not included in state or county data.
However, the state has started reporting zip code information for vaccination status, and the Timberjay’s analysis of that data reveals that some area communities may be at higher levels of risk than others.
Overall, for the zip codes of Cook, Orr, Tower, Soudan, Ely, and Embarrass, 70 percent of the population has had at least one dose of vaccine and 67.4 percent have completed their initial vaccination series, but only 30.5 percent are up to date with the recommended boosters.
Orr, Embarrass and Soudan are the zip codes that could be at higher risk due to both lower vaccination series completion and lower numbers of people who are up to date.
Orr, where only 53.7 percent of people have completed a vaccine series, has the lowest vaccination rate in the area. Only 19.6 percent of the population there is up to date with recommended boosters.
Embarrass comes in only slightly better, with 57.3 percent having completed the initial vaccination series, and 23.2 percent of residents up to date with boosters. Soudan’s vaccination completion rate is 60.9 percent, with only 24.9 percent current with their recommended boosters.
Tower is slightly below the regional averages for both, with a 64 percent completion rate and 30.5 percent being up to date. Conversely, Ely is on the high side with a 70.7 percent completion rates and and an up-to-date rate of 35.9 percent.
Curiously, even though Cook has had the highest number of cases per 100,000 people in the region, it also has the highest percentage of completed vaccinations at 80.6 percent. The percentage of those up-to-date mirrors that of the region at 30.7 percent.
Many people have delayed getting booster shots to wait for Omicron-specific boosters that are said to be coming this fall. The Biden administration has delayed expanding second boosters to those under age 50 because it could interfere with giving them a more effective, targeted vaccine booster this fall.
Novavax limited
On July 19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control approved the new Novavax COVID vaccine for use. Novavax may have appeal for those who have been resistant to taking vaccines because it’s formulated using the same processes as commonly accepted vaccines for hepatitis B, influenza, and whooping cough. Many unvaccinated people have expressed skepticism about how fast the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were developed using newer mRNA technology.
But the Novavax rollout is taking longer than that for prior vaccines due to limited supply and distribution issues. Only about three million doses are being made available by the federal government for states to order, and that’s barely enough to cover the estimated number of unvaccinated individuals who have said they would take it.
Not all providers who administered Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be offering Novavax as an option. The CVS drug store chain has said it has no plans to offer it, for example. And MDH said in a July 28 update that it would only authorize orders of 100 per site due to limited availability.
Those who want to find a clinic that administers Novavax would be advised to work through their primary health care provider for the time being. While MDH said on July 28 that it had added Novavax to its “Find A Vaccine” locator, a check by the Timberjay on Tuesday found that it was not listed among the 13 vaccination options for children and adults. A generic 100-mile radius search from Tower found no providers listed specifically indicating they are administering Novavax.
Youngest lag
With older siblings soon headed back to school, some parents may finally warm up to the idea of having their children six months to four years old vaccinated, yet a large majority of parents overall continue to wait or have already decided not to vaccinate their youngsters.
Only nine percent of eligible youngsters have received a first dose of vaccine since it was authorized in mid-June, with only one percent having completed the series.
A Kaiser Family Foundation survey published in July indicates that state health officials and providers will find the vaccine a tough sell, as over half of the parents asked were opposed to getting the vaccine for their children. Forty-three percent said they would “definitely not” do so, and another 13 percent said they would only do so if it were required for school. Another 27 percent want to “wait and see” before making a decision.

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