- A new COVID vaccine, reformulated to attack recent variants, is now arriving in Michigan
- Just 18 percent of Michiganders received the last COVID booster shot
- COVID cases remain low, but 469 people were in Michigan hospitals Monday with COVID, double from last month
New COVID-19 shots have begun arriving in Michigan, but finding them takes a bit of online searching and some phone calls.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that nearly all adults and children receive the new vaccine, which is tailored to attack more recent strains of the virus.
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The virus since then has morphed with a slew of other variants, including EG.5.1, dubbed Eris, and FL.1.5.1. or “Fornax.” Moderna and Pfizer say lab testing suggests the vaccine will protect against these variants and another — known as BA.2.86 or “Pirola” — as well.
That means there are now shots toprotect Michiganders against all three major respiratory perils this fall: COVID, flu and RSV, though the latter shot is available only for certain very young children and adults 60 and older.
The vaccines are considered most crucial to protectolder adults and others within higher-risk groups from respiratory infections that, in some cases, can turn deadly. And because babies are particularly susceptible to RSV, a specialized shot is now available to them and, possibly later this month, to those who are pregnant.
Under CDC recommendations, anyone 5 years or older — whether or not they’ve previously received a COVID vaccine — is eligible to receive a single dose of the new shot, so long as it has been at least two months since the last dose of any COVID vaccine.
Younger children, those six months through four years old, also are eligible, but the number of doses depends on whether they’ve already had a COVID vaccine and the timing of the last dose.
Where can I get the vaccine?
You can find vaccines at sites that typically offer vaccines, including local pharmacies, doctors offices, community clinics and health departments.
Most major pharmacy chains, including Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, Kroger, and Meijer encourage online scheduling, but some pharmacies, including CVS sites, take walk-ins, said Sarita Saade-Harfouch, regional director of CVS sites in Michigan
For people with little or no insurance, free vaccines are available through a variety of programs.
The website, vaccines.gov, also tracks flu vaccine providers and is searchable by zip code. Like other scheduling websites, it is updated as supplies arrive at locations.
Should I get it now or wait?
That depends on your personal circumstances.
For most people, the ideal time to get a shot is now, said Saade-Harfouch of CVS. It takes about two weeks to build immunity, she said. A vaccine this week won’t trigger full immunity until October.
“COVID season is already on the rise. There’s a lot of patients getting infected with the COVID virus. Flu is on its way; RSV as well,” she said. “We want to get everyone protected against all these viruses as quickly as possible.”
If you’ve recently been infected, a vaccine may reduce your chances of getting reinfected, Saade-Harfouch said, since there are several strains circulating now.
But she said to wait at least two weeks after the onset of symptoms before getting a shot. That ensures you’re not contagious to others in that space.
Still, since an infection builds a temporary immunity, you can also delay the shot by up to three months, according to Saade-Harfouch, reflecting recommendations by the CDC.
Will I have to wait?
The shots aren’t likely going to drive large crowds to the pharmacies, though — especially compared to the early days of the COVID vaccine when, in 2021, when the first vaccine recipients faced long lines and packed online scheduling.
While more than half of Americans reported being “very” or “somewhat” interested in a vaccine, just 18 percent of Michiganders — about 1.8 million people — received boosters made available last year. The rates were especially low among young adults. Just over 7 percent of Michiganders 18 to 24 received those boosters, according to the CDC.
The upcoming presidential election has again stirred up the furor over the vaccines that could lead to an even greater hesitation.
One day after the CDC’s decision last week authorizing new vaccines, Florida’s Gov. Rick DeSantis urged Florida’s under-65 residents to skip the new COVID shot, saying he was protecting them from being “guinea pigs” for the CDC and FDA. He was backed by the state’s surgeon general, Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo.
Is COVID even still a thing?
Yes. It’s far less deadly than during the height of the pandemic and the vast majority of the population has some level of herd immunity, either from prior shots or from contracting the virus. Even so, deaths are still occurring. And, there were 469 patients in Michigan hospitals Monday who tested positive for COVID, a significant upswing from a month ago, according to the newest state data.
The state has also experienced a small but steady uptick in confirmed COVID-19 cases.
And the cost?
Shots will likely remain free for most people.
COVID shots are free for Michiganders covered by Medicare Part B and Part D as well as Medicaid, according to information presented to a CDC advisory panel last week. And commercial insurance plans typically cover costs for vaccines recommended by the panel.
During the first few days of the rollout, however, customers have complained about paying hundreds of dollars for shots.
CBS News reported that CVS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have acknowledged the situation, blaming it on new billing codes that have not been updated on all insurance plans.
For the under- or uninsured, free vaccines are available through the federal Bridge Access Program, which distributes doses to local health departments, federally qualified health centers, migrant health centers and tribal health centers.
The state health department, which will receive an initial allocation of nearly 30,000 doses, also will provide vaccines through the Michigan Adult Vaccine Program, or MI-AVP and the Vaccines for Children program, MDHHS spokesperson Chelsea Wuth told Bridge.
What about the other shots?
The COVID vaccine arrives just as Michigan faces its annual respiratory season. Last year, nearly 3.2 million Michiganders received a flu vaccine, about 79 percent of the state’s goal of 4 million people, according to the state’s flu vaccine dashboard.
This year, vaccine manufacturers expect to supply at least 156 million doses of the flu vaccine nationally during the 2023-2024 season.
And that recommendation is simple: The CDC recommends nearly everyone six months and older receive one.
Being protected against RSV, the third threat, is a bit more complex. While the flu and COVID vaccines are available for nearly all age groups, three RSV products are specific to the most vulnerable age groups — the very young children, seniors and — depending on the same CDC committee — possibly pregnant women.
For babies, the CDC recommended in August a monoclonal antibody injection, Nirsevimab, also known by its trade name, Beyfortus. The injection — not technically a vaccine — reduces the risk for babies under eight months old and some older babies at increased risk of severe illness caused by RSV.
Meanwhile, Michiganders 60 and older now are eligible for two RSV vaccines — Arexvy and Abrysvo — that can protect them against lung infections, such as pneumonia, related to RSV. One dose can protect a person for two seasons, though the effectiveness wanes by the second season, according to the CDC.
Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also approved Abrysvo for pregnant women. The CDC panel, which recommended the vaccine’s use among older adults earlier this year, is scheduled to meet Friday this week to discuss whether it will recommend Abrysvo for pregnant people.