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New COVID-19 boosters are here. Health officials are encouraging the public to get the shot.

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The Cleveland Clinic is offering the new COVID-19 booster shot now and both Metrohealth and UH expect to have them soon. Northeast Ohio pharmacies also have appointments available for the new shot that health officials say protects against the Omicron variants.

Ohio health officials are urging the public — especially those at risk of severe disease — to get the new COVID-19 booster that protects against the Omicron variants that are currently circulating.

"Fewer of us are, in fact, contracting serious illness. Much of the credit of that goes to how many of us have been vaccinated," said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health during a press conference Thursday.

But, he said, "it remains important that we stay vigilant and get vaccinated."

The new COVID-19 boosters designed to protect against the original strain of the virus and the new BA.4 and BA.5 variants are becoming available in Northeast Ohio, according to spokespeople for several health systems.

The Cleveland Clinic is offering the new shots at Hillcrest and Fairview hospitals and the updated boosters will be available at previously scheduled primary care appointments beginning in mid-September. MetroHealth patients can expect the system to have some shots available at the end of this week and more boosters will be made available as supply expands. University Hospitals officials expect the new boosters to be "available in the coming weeks at UH physician offices."

On Thursday, both Walgreens and CVS pharmacies had appointments available for the new boosters on the company websites.

Even if you are not high-risk, getting a booster can tamp down the spread of the virus, making it safer for those who are at high risk to reenter society, said Dr. Anna Goroncy, of The Christ Hospital and the University of Cincinnati, during the press conference.

At this point in the pandemic, "we're in a position where some people are getting back to normal and others aren’t," Dr. Goroncy said.

While COVID-19 is riskier for people who have asthma and for those who have suppressed immune systems from an organ transplant or because of advanced age, the isolation required to avoid the virus can be damaging as well, she explained.

Goroncy, who works in geriatric medicine, said she has seen some older adults lose weight during the pandemic because they missed communal meals with relatives while trying to isolate themselves.

There's no reason to try to time when you get the booster, said Vanderhoff.

"Go ahead and get the shot," he said. "Because it will still have that same
beneficial impact on your immune system as we get into the depths of winter."

The COVID-19 vaccines, unlike seasonal flu shots, spur a spike in antibodies, but also provide cellular immunity, an immune response that does not involve antibodies and which lasts much longer, Vanderhoff explained.

Stephanie is the digital producer/editor of Ideastream Public Media’s health team.