Walz gets flu shot, promotes use of new COVID-19 booster

Gov. Tim Walz got his flu shot in a public event Tuesday, urging Minnesotans to follow his example and to seek the new booster to protect against COVID-19 once it arrives.

The pandemic public health emergency might be over, but Walz said COVID has reached a persistent — if low — endemic state that was predicted years ago.

“The good news is, unlike the past four years, or certainly the first three years [of the pandemic], we have a lot of tools to manage this,” he said before receiving the flu shot.

The new COVID booster was formulated to fight the XBB.1.5 variant of the coronavirus that has been the dominant cause of the infectious disease for much of this year. Other variants are replacing it, but studies by vaccine makers Moderna and Pfizer suggest the vaccine will protect against them as well and reduce the odds of COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths.

Walz received every one of his COVID vaccines and boosters in public to give confidence to others, and was planning to do the same Tuesday. The newest vaccine hadn’t arrived in time for the event, but the governor said he believes it is arriving this week in clinics and pharmacies across Minnesota.

State health leaders had hoped the new COVID vaccine would arrive within a couple days of its authorization by federal health authorities last week, but acknowledged on Tuesday that the timeline had been overly optimistic.

COVID hospitalizations have been increasing in Minnesota since early July, but remain at low and manageable levels for health care providers. The 189 hospitalizations on Sept. 12 made up the highest total since April 24, and included 23 patients requiring intensive care.

Flu levels remain low in Minnesota, based on pre-season tracking by the Department of Health. In-depth weekly surveillance starts on Oct. 12 with the traditional beginning of flu season.

The immunity gained by flu shots wanes with time, but Dr. Brooke Cunningham, the state health commissioner, said people shouldn’t delay getting vaccinated. It typically takes two weeks for flu shots to achieve full effect.

“Our historical recommendation,” she said, “was to get it when it comes.”

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