Whitmer pushes COVID-19 boosters, anticipating FDA approval, but plenty of people in Michigan can get one now

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer got her second COVID-19 vaccine dose on Thursday, April 29. - STATE OF MICHIGAN
  • State of Michigan
  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer got her second COVID-19 vaccine dose on Thursday, April 29.

As expected (we totally saw this coming), COVID-19 is surging in Michigan as the weather grows colder and people gather indoors more. On Wednesday, the state became the No. 1 COVID-19 hotspot in the nation, with record-high cases and hospitals pushed to capacity — a problem that could get worse with Thanksgiving just one week away.

The Food and Drug Administration hasn't yet officially approved COVID-19 booster shots for fully vaccinated people, though it's expected to do so soon, possibly as early as this week. On Wednesday evening, after meeting with medical advisors, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a statement encouraging eligible Michiganders to schedule their booster shot once FDA approval is granted.



"As we continue facing COVID, the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get vaccinated, and if you're eligible, get your booster shot," Whitmer said.

The thing is, the rules for booster shots already make it so that many Michiganders can get one right now. According to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, boosters are available to anyone age 18 or older two months after they got a one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot, and six months after they got their second Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna dose if they are 65 or older, or 18+ and have underlying health conditions or live or work in high-risk settings. Examples of "high-risk" workers listed are pretty much anyone who works in a public-facing job.



Look, we're going to be real here, it's not like anyone is really checking this stuff very closely anyway. If you got vaccinated when they became widely available back in April, you can get a booster now. If you plan on gathering with people for Thanksgiving, especially older or immunocompromised people, you might as well get one. The booster takes between one and two weeks to kick in.

People who got Johnson & Johnson are advised to switch to either Moderna or Pfizer for their booster. If you got Pfizer or Moderna for your first two doses, officials advise sticking with the same brand for your booster, and say you should expect to experience similar side effects to what you felt with your second dose. For many people, that could be up to 24 hours of fatigue, aches, and chills, so plan accordingly.

You can also "mix and match" vaccine boosters, and get a different vaccine for your booster than you got for the first two doses, which some believe could offer more durable immunity. The scientific verdict is still out on that, but experts say there isn't any evidence that it's unsafe to mix.

I got Pfizer for my two doses at the mass vaccination clinic at Detroit's Ford Field, and didn't experience any side effects. I decided to switch to Moderna for my booster, which I got last week, in the hopes of that extra-boosted immunity, and experienced rather painful body aches for about 24 hours after, as well as chills and fatigue. If I could do it again I might have just stuck with Pfizer. (I also got my flu vaccination at the same time. I have never gotten a flu shot before because I personally wasn't worried about getting sick, but this pandemic has taught me the importance of doing my part to help protect the most vulnerable people in my community.)

Of course, I'd prefer these shots go to the unvaccinated, both here and abroad, but these doses are already sitting in local clinics, and they have an expiration date. They've been available for months for people here, and it's up to lawmakers to get vaccines to other countries. I don't feel bad for getting a booster, and I don't think you should either.

President Joe Biden called for offering booster shots to all adults in August. "It will make you safer, and for longer, and it will help us end the pandemic faster," Biden said in a speech at the time. "This is no time to let our guard down. We just need to finish the job with science, with facts, and with confidence." But in September, the FDA's advisory board rejected making boosters widely available, reasoning that it would be better to prioritize getting shots to the many remaining unvaccinated people instead.

What changed? A small number of fully vaccinated people have since been getting mild "breakthrough" COVID-19 cases, suggesting the immunity offered by the vaccines could wane with time. Michigan hospitals are saying that the majority of their hospitalized COVID-19 patients, some 70%, are unvaccinated, and many of the hospitalized vaccinated people tend to be older or have other underlying conditions. While experts say this is proof that the vaccines are still effective, as long as the virus is continuing to spread in communities, there will probably be a need for boosters.

According to Michigan's health department, more than 1 million boosters have been administered so far.

Vaccines are available for anyone ages 5 and older. You can find one at vaccinefinder.org.

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