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Champaign County health officials urge residents to get new vaccine booster

Champaign health experts say local residents should get the new booster, which protects against the latest strain of the COVID-19 virus.

URBANA – Distribution of the new bivalent COVID-19 booster began last week across Illinois, including in Champaign County. 

The bivalent booster offers more protection against the Omicron variant because it combines the original strain of COVID-19 with the most recent one, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Previous boosters only protected against the SARS variant. 

Champaign health experts said residents should get the new booster. 

COVID Booster Vaccine  
Champaign-Urbana Public Health District is holding a Bivalent COVID Vaccine Clinic at 201 W. Kenyon Rd. in Champaign.

Click here to sign up for an appointment

McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is offering free flu shots who have paid the health service fee. Click here for more information.
Carle Health Click here for COVID-19 vaccination info by county.
OSF Healthcare Click here for COVID-19 vaccination info.

Doing so is especially important for college students to get updated boosters because they make up such a large share of the local population, said Christopher Brooke, a virologist and vaccine expert at the University of Illinois.

“The protection conferred by the older vaccines and boosters isn’t the same as it was a year or two ago because the virus has changed,” he said. “So the immune response that the older vaccines and boosters trigger doesn’t recognize this new evolved variant, as well.

“That’s what’s the huge benefit of the new bivalent booster. It’s going to elicit an immune response that better recognizes the viruses that we’re actually seeing now, so it should be more protective.” 

Brooke said he doesn’t recommend the booster for those who have had COVID-19 in the past six months because they have already been exposed to the Omicron variant.

However, he said he recommends it for anyone who hasn’t been recently infected. 

“It’s always better to give your immune system a boost from a vaccine rather than getting infected,” Brooke said. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients experienced long COVID symptoms. 

The CDC defines long COVID, or post-COVID conditions, as when someone experiences COVID-like symptoms for weeks, months or more after their initial infection. 

These symptoms include constant fatigue, difficulty breathing, brain fog and more, according to the agency. 

Awais Vaid, the director of McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said the effects of long-COVID are still being studied.

“We do know that these vaccines and boosters protect you against some of the long-term, harmful effects of COVID,” he said. 

Vaid said he doesn’t see vaccines going away in the near future because the virus will continue to evolve and mutate. 

“As we move in the post-pandemic phase of COVID, it’s becoming more and more clear that an annual booster for COVID may be something that is recommended,” he said. 

A box of COVID-19 vaccine
Champaign County health officials say the new COVID booster is in stock. Emily Richie

Students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign said they are hearing that message and ready to get the shot. 

“I’m definitely excited that it’s out,” said Kristina Serrano, a junior in interdisciplinary health sciences. “Hopefully it brings, like, a new sense of protection for everybody and we can all be sort of healthy again.” 

The University could be doing more to advertise the booster, she said, like hanging posters around campus where students visit frequently. 

Eve Rubovits, a junior in community health, agreed. 

“I think if more people knew about it, and then more people get it, it would keep everyone safer and more healthy,” she said. 

Joshua Coch, a junior in mechanical engineering, said he is ready for the booster, too.

“I feel like it’s good to keep people safe, first of all, and I don’t want to expose people,” Coch said. 

The University of Illinois has started offering student-only appointments at the health center on campus, officials said.

Other Champaign County residents can find information about getting the bivalent booster on the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District’s website.

Appointments can be made by going to the district’s online signup form.

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