Flint, MI — Updated COVID-19 vaccines are making their way to Genesee County following Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval last week.

The new vaccines are already available at local Walgreens locations and will be at Flint Rite Aid locations by Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, according to the company’s website.

The Genesee County Health Department (GCHD) also plans to offer the updated shots at its Burton, Mich. location and offsite immunization clinics, however it will likely not have the new vaccines available until later this month according to April Swartout, public health supervisor with GCHD.

“It is a different process for receiving the vaccines than in the past because we are not getting them directly from the government,” explained Swartout. “We have to order them directly through the manufacturer, which makes the timetables more difficult to anticipate.”

Who should get the updated COVID-19 vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are recommending the updated COVID vaccine for anyone aged 6 months or older.

“For a COVID vaccine, the greatest benefit that it provides is protection against hospitalization and severe outcomes,” said Natalie Pirkola, the senior vice president of pharmacy for nonprofit health insurance provider, Health Alliance Plan (HAP). “The CDC has recommended anyone six months and older to go ahead and get a booster. And, generally speaking, if it’s been at least two months since you’ve had COVID … you could benefit from a vaccine.”

Pirkola also noted that the new boosters are single-dose, meaning those who have previously received COVID vaccinations do not need to seek out a particular brand name to ensure ongoing protection.

“This one [vaccination] would be able to stand alone, so there’s no need to worry about finding just the ‘right’ one or the ‘right’ manufacturer,” she said. “Whatever dose they’re able to find nearby and have covered for them without charge is going to be the most important thing.”

When to get the updated COVID-19 vaccine

The updated COVID vaccines are similar to flu shots in that they were developed to respond to the most recently circulating strains of their target virus, Swartout said. However, while many Genesee County residents may elect to get a COVID booster alongside their seasonal flu shot later this fall, she said some should consider getting theirs earlier.

For instance, Swartout suggested residents who are immunocompromised should try to get the new vaccine “as soon as they can.” Others, she said, may opt to get their shot a couple of weeks ahead of travel plans or big events, as vaccines don’t immediately take effect.

“Keep in mind there is a window of time after vaccination to reach, basically, full coverage for the vaccine,” Swartout said, noting that that window is roughly two weeks. “So… if you’re going to be traveling, if you’re going to do anything that’s going to be putting you at additional risk for contracting COVID, influenza, any type of thing, you want to factor that into when you get vaccinated.”

What the new COVID-19 vaccine costs

Both Swartout and Pirkola noted that insurance is expected to cover the cost of the updated COVID-19 vaccines, and residents should be prepared to present their insurance information at their vaccination appointment.

“In the past, there was no charge for it [the COVID vaccine] because everything was covered by the government,” Swartout said. “Now that we’ve gotten away from that, we fully anticipate that insurance will cover the cost of the vaccine, but people should know that they will be asked for their insurance card.” 

The health department supervisor added that for those without insurance, there are programs to help cover the updated COVID vaccines’ cost, which may land somewhere between $110 to $130 per dose according to health policy researcher KPP. But, she noted, there may still be an administration fee that is not covered under those programs.

“I’m not sure what we will have available at the county level,” she said. “But I know that we will work with anyone who wants a vaccine to make sure they’re able to get it, whether it’s at a reasonable cost for them or by billing their insurance.”

Pirkola noted that residents without insurance may also want to consider signing up for, or renewing, Medicaid coverage ahead of seeking out a COVID booster.

“We’re going through what’s called Medicaid redetermination, so many people who were previously on Medicaid need to submit new paperwork,” Pirkola said.

She added that she knows the paperwork factor is a barrier, but it’s a key way residents may be able to protect themselves, loved ones and others as virus season starts.

“If they’re interested in getting a vaccine, it would be worthwhile to apply for Medicaid, which would be another way for them to get it [the COVID vaccine] without any charge to them,” she said.

GCHD’s Burton clinic is located at G-3373 S. Saginaw St., and its hours vary by day of the week. The health department also hosts vaccine clinics around the community, including senior centers, throughout the month. Those times and locations can be found here.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....

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