Farhiya Aden receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Minneapolis Convention Center on February 5, 2021. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

The Minnesota Department of Health announced this month that COVID-19 bivalent booster vaccines are available by appointment at state-run vaccination sites across the state.

National and local public health officials are recommending that people receive the new booster as the COVID virus evolves into new variants.

“Staying up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines is a crucial part of protecting our state in the months ahead,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. “I would also encourage eligible Minnesotans who are seeking this updated booster to take this opportunity to ensure your whole family is up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations so you have the best protection possible as school starts and before end-of-year holidays.” 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: About 68 percent of the total U.S. population is fully vaccinated, which is defined as receiving both doses of a two-dose COVID vaccine, or one dose of a vaccine that only requires one shot. About 79 percent of the country’s population have received at least one dose of a booster shot.

About 70 percent of Minnesotans are fully vaccinated, and about 77 percent have received at least one booster dose.

Sahan Journal put together this guide about the newest booster shot and where you can receive one.

What is the bivalent booster?

The bivalent booster is a new shot that includes components of the original COVID virus strain and the Omicron variant. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the booster on August 31.

The Omicron variant is currently the source of most COVID cases in the United States, said the administration, adding that it is “predicted to circulate this fall and winter.”

“…The bivalent COVID-19 vaccines are expected to provide increased protection against the currently circulating omicron variant,” according to the administration.

The booster is administered as a single shot at least two months after you receive your last COVID vaccine or a prior booster.

Where can I get the booster shot?

If you live in Minnesota, you can make an appointment at five state-run vaccination sites:

  • The Mall of America, 60 E. Broadway, Bloomington, Minnesota.
  • The Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, 350 Harbor Drive, Duluth, Minnesota.
  • The former Thomas Edison Elementary School, 1110 S. 14th St. Moorhead, Minnesota.
  • The Mayo Civic Center, 30 Civic Center Dr. S.E., Rochester, Minnesota.
  • St. Paul Midway community vaccination site, 1400 University Avenue West, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

The sites are offering the Pfizer bivalent booster.

Register for appointments at the Mall of America through this link. Boosters will be administered Wednesday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Make appointments at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center at this link. Appointments will be accepted on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Mondays from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Appointments in Moorhead are available at this link. The site is open Fridays from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Appointments in Rochester are available at this link. The site is open Fridays from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information on the St. Paul vaccination site, visit this link.

Pharmacies, multiple health organizations, and healthcare systems in Minnesota can also provide the updated booster shots and will have appointments available, the department said.

Is the booster safe?

“The bivalent boosters were shown to be safe and effective,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. “They will be a key tool in helping provide better protection against variants that are currently spreading.”

The booster may cause side effects commonly reported with prior COVID vaccines, said the Food and Drug Administration. Side effects vary by person but can include headaches, fatigue, muscle pain, fever, chills, and nausea. The injection site can experience pain, swelling, and redness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends applying a cool, wet washcloth to the injection site and to keep moving the arm that was injected. For other side effects, the agency recommends drinking fluids and speaking to your doctor about the use of over-the-counter pain relievers, which should not be taken before receiving the vaccine or boosters.

Why are boosters necessary?

The COVID virus changes over time into new variants, and the protection offered by vaccines can wane, according to several leading health organizations such as the Mayo Clinic and World Health Organization. Boosters include components of the original virus and new variants, and offer broader protection.

“Immune response fades naturally over time,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “It can also happen when the virus that causes COVID-19 changes so the immune system doesn’t recognize it as well. Research suggests that getting a booster dose can decrease your risk of infection and severe illness with COVID-19.”

Who is eligible for the booster?

The Pfizer bivalent booster vaccine is recommended for people 12 years and older. 

The Moderna bivalent booster vaccine is recommended for people 18 years and older. The Minnesota Department of Health said on September 15 that the Moderna booster “will arrive later than initially anticipated.” No further details were immediately available.

How much does the booster cost?

Boosters are free for all Minnesotans whether or not they have health insurance, according to the state Department of Health. That applies to booster shots received at state-run or private vaccination sites.

How do I get a COVID test?

You can walk in or schedule an appointment for a free test at one of the state’s COVID-19 Community Testing Sites

Free rapid tests can be ordered online through the state’s at-home rapid testing program. Minnesotans can also check with their insurance companies about receiving free tests from pharmacies.

Testing is available to anyone who believes they need a COVID test, whether or not they have insurance. Find testing locations at this Minnesota Department of Health link.

For more information, call the Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 public hotline at 1-833-431-2053 between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, or between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Nikhil Kumaran is a student at The University of Minnesota. He is studying journalism and political science.