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"There is a free COVID vaccine with your name on it," CDC Director Mandy Cohen says in Boston

CDC Director Mandy Cohen visits Roxbury to encourage COVID vaccination
CDC Director Mandy Cohen visits Roxbury to encourage COVID vaccination 00:50

ROXBURY - CDC Director Mandy Cohen visited Roxbury on Wednesday to encourage people to get the updated COVID vaccine for fall 2023.

Cohen toured the Whittier Street Health Center, which she said is helping to make sure the vaccine gets to Black and Latino communities. 

Related: Dr. Mallika Marshall answers your COVID questions

When the updated COVID vaccine became available to the public last month, some said the process was a "nightmare." Vaccine appointments were initially scarce and some people were getting charged nearly $200 for the shot.

Cohen said there is a change to the distribution process this year.

"We know in past years the federal government purchased all the vaccine and distributed it. So they both were distributing it and making it free for everyone," Cohen said. "So it is different this year. The private sector is the one distributing it. So they've taken a little bit for that supply to get to where it needs to be."

Cohen said availability is now "pretty good" for adults and they're working on increasing supplies for kids.

According to the CDC, most people can get a free COVID vaccine through their own health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid plans. Anyone not covered by insurance can get one for free at health care providers, federally supported health centers and pharmacy locations that are participating in the agency's Bridge Access Program. 

"Everyone should know there is a free COVID vaccine with your name on it," Cohen said. "Just call ahead and make sure the supply is there for you."

So far, 4 million people have received the updated COVID vaccine. Cohen acknowledged that some people may be wondering why it's necessary if they've previously had COVID or have been vaccinated several times already.

"What I want folks to understand is that that protection is decreasing over time and this virus is changing," Cohen said. "Yes you may have had COVID a while back and that gives you some protection, but to get the most protection against this form of the COVID virus that's circulating right now, get the updated COVID vaccine."

Cohen also addressed questions about the safety of the vaccine.

"These vaccines are incredibly safe and very effective at preventing the worst of COVID," she said. "We did see a few cases of what was called myocarditis or heart inflammation just in our young men. Actually those cases were pretty rare and it's actually more common for young men to get myocarditis from COVID itself than from the vaccine."

Dr. Robert Goldstein, the Department of Public Health commissioner, rolled up his sleeve to get both the COVID shot and a flu vaccine. He said the state is "watching closely" to make sure hospitals that are already at high capacity levels have the resources they need to combat COVID, the flu and RSV.

"I think we should expect to see ups and downs of all three of those viruses as we go through the fall and into the winter," he said.

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