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Peoria County health official explains new 'bivalent' COVID-19 booster shots

Monica speaks at podium
Joe Deacon
Public Health Administrator Monica Hendrickson says the new boosters will replace the old ones.

Federal officials say the United States could be entering a new phase in the treatment of COVID-19.

The federal government has started distributing a new set of booster shots for the fall cold and flu season. The FDA approved the shots last week, shortly followed by recommendations for use from the CDC.

These are updates to the Moderna and Pfizer-Biontech vaccines, and target the original coronavirus as well as BA.4 and BA.5, two omicron subvariants that are currently responsible for the most infections.

“Those are valence, as we call them, but you know, just different mutations, so to speak,” said Monica Hendrickson, public health administrator of the Peoria City/County Health Department. “Now, it’s about releasing the vaccine to the community and being able to start providing those boosters.”

She said the new boosters, known as "bivalent" boosters, will replace the previous ones moving forward.

Hendrickson said the first places people will be able to find the new boosters are pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS, and nursing homes. She expects other ways to get the boosters to follow shortly after.

“The good news is we were all able to pre-order,” said Hendrickson. “Because we had a long weekend, Labor Day, shipments are really starting to get pushed out this week and into next week.”

She said you will need to have had both of the original series of vaccines to get the bivalent booster. There also will need to be a two-month gap between your last COVID vaccination, finishing the primary series or the first boosters, and when you get the new booster.

If you still need to get the primary series of vaccinations done, Hendrickson said those are easy to find through doctor’s offices, health departments and even some pharmacies at places like Walmart and Target.

With the new boosters also comes the news that federal health officials believe we could be moving toward a yearly coronavirus shot, similar to the way we handle influenza.

“You’re talking about a type of virus that, you know, mode of operation is respiratory, right? It’s droplet based, they have the ability to mutate at a pretty good speed and a pretty good clip,” said Hendrickson. “So, to see an annual COVID vaccine as well, you know, similar to what you see with influenza vaccines, I think that it’s not unheard of and it seems actually really natural in terms of how we think about public health and vaccinations.”

In general, she said, Peoria County is “staying ahead” of the virus.

“That being said, you know, we’re moving into our cold season, we’re moving into respiratory season,” she said. “It’s something that we’re going to watch.”

Hendrickson said the best way to keep Peoria County ahead of the virus is to stay home if you’re feeling sick. Of course, basic hygiene like washing your hands and covering coughs and sneezes also is important tools to keep the spread of COVID-19 low.

If you’re interested in getting the new boosters, Hendrickson recommends keeping an eye on the health department’s social media accounts and website for updates. She asks people to avoid calling if they can, as a high volume of calls can negatively impact the health department’s system.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.