Experts encourage Chicagoans to get COVID booster shot as new variant raises concerns

Sarah Schulte Image
Friday, August 25, 2023
Experts push COVID booster as new variant raises concerns
Experts are encouraging Chicagoans to get the new COVID vaccine this fall as the BA 2.86 variant raises concerns.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- For lease or boarded up, COVID testing sites are a thing of the past.

While the pandemic is officially over, the virus is making a late summer comeback.

"COVID cases are rising. We are seeing them nationally, in our state, city and in our system," said Dr. Sharon Welbel.

In Chicago, during the past week, laboratory-confirmed cases have increased 22%. Hospitalizations have gone up by 42% compared to the previous week, and wastewater surveillance is showing the virus increasing in most neighborhoods.

Most current cases continue to be a sub-variant of omicron, but infectious disease experts are concerned about the new BA 2.86 variant, also part of the omicron family.

"It has a lot of potential immune invasion, a lot of mutations that make it a concerning version," said Dr. Alfredo Mena Lora.

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Fortunately, there have been only a small number of reported cases worldwide, but experts said that can change quickly. Doctors strongly encourage their patients to get the new COVID one-shot booster expected to be available in late September or October.

"We are certainly trying to keep up with variants, but we are also trying of keep up with our own protection are own immunity which wanes every couple of months," Mena Lora said.

But, getting people to take the shot will be a challenge, since rates for previous COVID boosters have been low. Because COVID is no longer a public health emergency, COVID federal funds have dried up to pay for testing and vaccine outreach.

"The onus is on us as providers as institutions as health departments we can do it, we can do it," Welbel said.

COVID vaccines are no longer free for everyone. You must be insured. However, the CDC has launched a new program to provide the shots to the uninsured, or you can come to Cook County Health and get one.