Three years into the pandemic era, COVID-19 is still circulating in the Twin Cities and remains a particular danger to people with certain health conditions. With more travel and other community activities ahead during spring break and then Easter, Minnesota public health officials are closely watching the presence of the contagious virus.
As of Feb. 23, the Minnesota Department of Health counted 14,347 Minnesotans who people have died from COVID-19 in the past three years. That’s why public health officials continue to urge everyone to be fully vaccinated and boosted, to protect themselves and to stop transmission throughout the community.
“Almost 80% of our population is vaccinated and we’re stressing the best way to be fully protected, for yourself and your family, is with a booster,” said Laura Andersen, manager of the Ramsey County Health Protection Division of Public Health.
People who are vaccinated and boosted are more likely to have a milder case if they do contract the virus. A report by the Centers for Disease Control from earlier this month found that people who received the latest booster were 14 times less likely to die than unvaccinated people.
Today’s boosters have been updated to specifically target the virus that’s circulating right now but only about a third of Minnesota adults have received the latest bivalent booster.
“The virus keeps evolving and pharmaceutical companies and researchers are watching it and making small adjustments,” Andersen explained. “What’s known as the bivalent booster is more protective and effective against the types of variants we’re seeing right now.”
Andersen’s team in Ramsey County tracks COVID-19 statistics, checking for a surge in cases of severe infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. They look at the numbers beyond the Twin Cities since spikes in other communities in the Upper Midwest often predict what might happen with case numbers locally.
“It remains a very transmissible virus and people who are immune compromised, older or have conditions like diabetes or heart disease are still most vulnerable,” Andersen said. “And we know that it can take a lot out of some people who are perfectly healthy.”
The primary vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna and the follow-up boosters are widely available and advised for everyone over six months of age. The federal government has purchased plenty of vaccines for all Americans so the shots are given at no cost at most every healthcare provider’s office or pharmacy, often with no appointment required.
At Ramsey County’s community public health clinics, Andersen said what’s known as “first dosers” are commonly seen—and welcomed.
“A number of people weren’t sure about the vaccine at first. They had their reasons, and we get it,” she said. “Now they’ve done their research, had conversations with family and friends, thought about it, and have made the decision to do it. We are delighted to see those folks now.”
Andersen imagines that in the future, an annual COVID-19 shot will be as commonplace as a seasonal flu shot is today. She encourages everyone with concerns about the virus or the vaccines to bring their questions to their trusted healthcare providers.
“It’s leveled off now but we know that the pandemic took a greater toll on communities of color in the number of cases and the number of deaths. It’s so important that people get the right information,” she said. “Don’t seek medical advice on Facebook.
For scheduling free vaccines and boosters at Ramsey County clinics: www.ramseycounty.us/covid-19-info/covid-19-vaccine.
To learn more about getting a free vaccine use the state’s Vaccine Locator Map to find a vaccine provider: mn.gov/covid19/vaccine/find-vaccine/locations/index.jsp.
Check for vaccine appointments using Vaccine.gov (you can search for appointments by vaccine type: Pfizer vaccine, Moderna vaccine, Johnson & Johnson vaccine): www.vaccines.gov.
Contact your primary healthcare provider or a local pharmacy. Employers may also reach out with information for vaccination opportunities.
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