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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

MDH hoping to increase uptake of new bivalent boosters

David Colburn
Posted 11/30/22

REGIONAL- The Biden administration launched a belated effort last week to shore up an anemic response to the bivalent COVID-19 boosters introduced three months ago, hoping to head off a possible …

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MDH hoping to increase uptake of new bivalent boosters

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REGIONAL- The Biden administration launched a belated effort last week to shore up an anemic response to the bivalent COVID-19 boosters introduced three months ago, hoping to head off a possible winter surge of cases, and the Minnesota Department of Health is augmenting the campaign with its own parallel efforts.
The bivalent booster vaccines, specifically tailored to combat Omicron variants BA.5 and BA.4, were approved for emergency use in early September, but a public affected by mental fatigue after more than two years of the pandemic has been largely aloof to the pleas of health officials to get boosted. So far, just over 11 percent of eligible people ages 5 and older have received the new booster, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of the 170 million doses purchased by the federal government, only about 35 million have been administered.
In Minnesota, uptake of the boosters has been better, but at 18 percent the vast majority of eligible recipients has yet to receive the latest shot.
On Nov. 22, administration officials announced a six-week campaign to increase booster uptake, with an emphasis on older adults who are at higher risk of contracting the virus. The campaign includes $350 million for community health centers to expand vaccination outreach, $125 million to get more older Americans vaccinated, and new enforcement guidance to ensure that nursing homes are offering the updated booster.
Dr. Anthony Fauci highlighted new research released by the Centers for Disease Control showing that the bivalent boosters provide 28 to 56 percent more protection against symptomatic COVID infections from BA.5 and BA.4 than previous doses of monovalent vaccines.
However, while those two Omicron variants were dominant in the U.S. when the bivalent boosters were approved, BA.5 is now responsible for less than 20 percent of new COVID cases, and BA.4 has been all but eliminated by newer variants, accounting for just one-tenth of one percent of new cases. The new CDC study analyzed booster effectiveness only against BA.5/BA.4 variants, and the authors note that “results of this study might not be generalizable to future variants,” as well as mentioning several other limitations of the study.
Still, new variants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, now accounting for between 50 and 60 percent of new cases in the U.S., are part of the BA.5 family, and health officials have expressed confidence that bivalent boosters should also provide added protection against them.
And while Omicron and all of its subsequent variants have shown increasing ability to evade prior COVID immunity to cause breakthrough infections, the bivalent boosters have been shown to lower the risk of dying and serious illness from COVID. Those vaccinated with the updated booster had a 14.9-times lower risk of dying from COVID-19 in September and a 3.2-times lower risk of testing positive for COVID in September, according to CDC data.
The Timberjay contacted MDH Public Information Officer Garry Bowman for information about how current MDH efforts will supplement the federal booster push. Bowman said that MDH initiatives include:
 Consistent messaging during earned media opportunities to emphasize the importance of getting the bivalent booster and flu shot as the best protection against the respiratory viruses circulating this winter.
 Continuing to prioritize the importance of boosters in messaging on social media and through partners. From before Thanksgiving and throughout December, MDH is reminding Minnesotans to “Celebrate Safely,” which includes vaccination and other recommended prevention steps.
 A paid public awareness advertising campaign that will highlight recommendations for boosters (as well as flu shots) to a wide range of age groups. The campaign will capitalize on both the reach of existing communications channels as well as additional digital advertising opportunities.
 For long-term care and skilled nursing facilities, MDH continues to emphasize recommending the bivalent booster for residents and staff in communication with providers throughout Minnesota.
 MDH COVID Community Coordinators are continuing their work to coordinate and promote culturally relevant pop-up community vaccination clinics in underserved communities.

Trends
While health officials continue to harbor concerns about a possible significant rise in COVID infections, hospitalizations, and deaths over the winter, as has been the case in prior years of the pandemic, current evidence from MDH indicates that the state has thus far avoided such a surge.
Death rates from COVID have remained constant since July, with the seven-day average decreasing slightly from seven deaths per day to 6.6 deaths per day on Nov. 4, the last day before the lag period for reporting.
Hospitalizations have declined from 79.6 per day in late August to 62.4 on Nov. 5, and ICU admissions have remained flat at about eight per day.
Cases have halved since July, standing at a seven-day moving average of 773 on Nov. 4, although at-home testing not reported to MDH makes this number less reliable as an indicator of COVID activity.
In St. Louis County for the months of September and October, case rates and hospitalizations per 100,00 in the northern part of the county were slightly elevated over other areas, but actual hospital admissions in northern St. Louis County numbered 21. No deaths were reported for the northern area, and only four for the county as a whole.
Health officials anticipate that with the increase in social gatherings over the holiday season a rise in both COVID and flu cases is possible, but at this point no data is available to assess the possible impact of the Thanksgiving holiday.

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