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Local health departments begin distributing latest COVID boosters

People in masks enter a building
Paul Tuthill
File photo

With colder weather approaching and with it fears of new infections, health departments in northern New York are beginning to hold clinics for people to get the latest COVID booster shot.

On September 1st the CDC recommended people get updated COVID-19 boosters. Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says the new shots are formulated to better protect against the currently circulating variants and will help restore waning protection from previous shots.

The Clinton County Health Departmentwas set to begin clinics Thursday afternoon. Principal Public Health Educator Molly Flynn explains that the vaccine will be available from several sources.

“There is a new, it’s called a bivalent or sometimes also called the Omicron COVID-19 booster, and it’s really going to be rolled out by several different people much like the original series of the vaccine was, or similar to the way that the flu vaccine gets rolled out. So the Health Department certainly is going to be offering clinics to all Clinton County residents several times throughout the month of September. But your local pharmacy and perhaps your primary care provider may be offering the vaccine as well. So it won’t only be the Health Department where you can get it.”

Flynn says the Health Department is well stocked and will be able to obtain the vaccine as needed. She notes that even if a person has received past boosters they should get the new one.

"Likely it’s been a while since the last time you had your booster. So the protection has started to wane at least some so it’s probably time for another booster just like you get another flu shot every year. The other reason is this bivalent means they take that original vaccine that protected against those original cases of COVID, the original variants, and it also mixes in extra protection against the different variants that are more present right now in our community like Omicron. The Omicron variant didn’t exist when we were making those vaccines. So the new vaccines make sure that it protects against that variant as well.”

Essex County Health Department Public Health Unit Program Coordinator Andrea Whitmarsh explains who can receive the bivalent booster.

“For Pfizer they have an approval for people 12 and up and for Moderna the approval right now is for folks 18 years of age and older. If you’ve had boosters, it doesn’t matter how many you’ve had, as long as you’re two months out from either a booster or your primary series you can receive the bivalent vaccine right now.”

The Essex County Health Department began distributing the new bivalent boosters during its regular COVID clinics on Monday. Whitmarsh says there are a steady stream of people getting vaccinations.

“Currently what we have been doing, because the vaccine was actually approved very recently for younger children ages six months to 5 years, we have offered a lot of clinics to get that population vaccinated and that would be with their primary series. So what we’re seeing is a lot of appointments for the younger kiddos coming in to be initially vaccinated. But now we’re also with the fall coming and this new bivalent booster being approved we have started to add those booster clinics and we’re seeing people come in for those. So it’s kind of a mix right now.”

The health officials say it’s particularly important to receive the booster as fall approaches and people begin to spend more time indoors. Flynn says they are vigilant about a potential winter COVID spike.

“We all retreat inside and we know that the virus spreads a lot more easily indoors. In the summer we see less because we’re outside and we’re not in close tight areas with other people. Would it surprise us if we saw another increase in cases this winter? No.”