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New COVID Boosters Now Available In Chicago, Giving More Protection Against Common Omicron Variants

The bivalent boosters are free and available to everyone 12 and older who has already gotten their initial vaccine shots. People should get them as soon as possible, officials urged.

Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines are administered by Jewel-Osco pharmacists to union workers at the IUOE Local 399 union hall ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris's visit to discuss vaccine rollouts and union work in Chicago on April 6, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — New booster shots that offer far greater protection against the most common variants of COVID-19 are now available in Chicago — and people should get them as soon as possible, city leaders said Tuesday.

The federal government approved the booster shots — Pfizer and Moderna’s bivalent boosters — and has shipped about 150,000 doses to Chicago for the city to start with, health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady and Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a news conference. The shots are already available at pharmacies and other spots around the city.

The bivalent boosters are free and available to everyone 12 and older who has already gotten their initial vaccine shots. More information is available online.

“You are eligible and can get a vaccine this week … and we would love to see you do that,” Arwady said.

The new boosters are especially important because they offer far greater protection against the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants of COVID-19, which make up 99.9 percent of recent confirmed cases in the Chicago area, Arwady said.

“This is a big deal,” Arwady said. “This updated COVID-19 vaccine is the first time we’ve had a change to the kind of COVID vaccine you can get. … Getting the vaccine that is a perfect match is your best chance to not only protect yourself and your family and your community long-term against [severe illness and death], but also hopefully to help us get ahead of the COVID virus looking ahead to the winter.”

The booster shots are safe, Arwady said. The old booster shots will no longer be available for people 12 and older, though kids 5-11 can still get them.

And the shots are needed because Chicago has seen more people getting reinfected with COVID-19, Arwady said. The booster shots could prevent the virus spreading — which would prevent a fall and winter surge like Chicago saw last year and would prevent it from mutating into more dangerous variants.

“If we can get a lot of people protected right now from the variant that’s circulating, we’ll see fewer transmissions and, hopefully, less emergence of new strains, which is what we really are concerned about heading into fall and winter,” Arwady said.

The federal government will send more doses to Chicago as needed, and the city is providing the shots to health care providers — particularly pharmacies — and other organizations to make it as easy as possible for people to get boosted.

“No matter where you live in Chicago, there is vaccine available for you near your home, and we will even bring it to your home if it’s in some of the areas where there’s not as many pharmacies,” Arwady said.

Some people will also be able to get the booster shot at home though the city’s Protect Chicago at Home program. Appointments for that program will be temporarily limited to people 65 and older or anyone who is homebound and who is living in one of these ZIP codes: 60608, 60612, 60617, 60619, 60620, 60621, 60624, 60628, 60633, 60636, 60637, 60644, 60649, 60651, 60653, 606707 and 60827.

Officials urged people to get the booster shot as soon as possible.

Chicago remains at medium risk from COVID-19, officials said. An average of 517 cases are being reported per day, and fewer than one person is dying from COVID-19 per day on average, according to city data.

COVID-19 is still here, Lightfoot and Arwady said.

“This is not the flu,” Lightfoot said. “It is much more serious. It is much more contagious. And, unfortunately, it’s much more deadly.”

Arwady said she does not expect 100 percent of all eligible people the vaccine, though she hopes they do. She remains most concerned about communities where people haven’t gotten vaccinated and boosted since they’re more at risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19, she said.

Arwady said she expects “see probably some issues with COVID” this fall and winter, but the boosters will give Chicago a chance to get ahead of it — if people get the shots.

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