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COVID-19 - State of Emergency Ended. Now what?

~ 5 min read

On May 11, 2023, the Federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) ended. Although this by no means indicates an end to the risks of COVID-19, health professionals may need new strategies to keep their patients informed about COVID-19 and the continued need for vaccinations. Additionally, healthcare providers should stay informed on CDC booster guidelines. 

Changes due to the end of PHE

In light of the end of the public health emergency, some changes will be made in the way COVID-19 statistics are reported. For example, labs will no longer be required to report test results. And while the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) encourages labs to provide that information voluntarily, statistics will not be nearly as accurate.1

Additionally, although some insurance providers may choose to continue coverage, private insurance plans will no longer be required to cover the cost of over-the-counter COVID-19 testing kits.1

Current COVID-19 vaccine guidance

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the current guidelines for COVID-19 recommend that everyone over six years of age receive at least one updated Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.2

These updated vaccines are bivalent, meaning they address the initial COVID-19 virus and the Omicron variant that emerged more recently. Even patients who received the first rounds of COVID-19 vaccines should receive one dose of the bivalent vaccine. Moving forward, however, all individuals aged six months or older should receive at least one bivalent mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.3

The specific vaccine schedule for non-immunocompromised individuals is as follows:2

  • Children between six months - four years should receive 2 or 3 bivalent mRNA vaccine doses
  • Children aged five years should receive one bivalent mRNA vaccine dose
  • Anyone aged six years or more who is either unvaccinated against COVID-19 or only received monovalent doses should receive one bivalent mRNA vaccine
  • If a person is over 65 years old, they have the option of an additional bivalent mRNA dose

The vaccine schedule for anyone moderately or severely immunocompromised is as follows:

  • Children aged six months or older at the time of their first vaccination should receive three bivalent mRNA doses
  • Those who are six months or older and previously received monovalent doses should receive 1 or 2 bivalent mRNA vaccine doses (this depends on specific age and vaccine)
  • Anyone who received a bivalent mRNA dose previously has the option to receive additional mRNA vaccine doses

As with any other vaccine or medical treatment, healthcare providers should explain the options to their patients, go over any possible side effects, and work with their patients to make an individual plan for a vaccine schedule based on vaccine history, health risks, and any extenuating circumstances such as pregnancy or pre-existing conditions.

Empowering patients with COVID-19 concerns

For healthcare providers, the news of the end of the PHE may result in many patient questions. Some patients may be concerned that we are no longer taking COVID-19 seriously enough, while others might think that there is no longer a need for COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.

Post-pandemic healthcare trends should focus on keeping patients in the loop and educating them on the best way to continue to protect themselves against COVID-19.

Stay up-to-date

As a healthcare provider, your responsibility is to stay educated and informed. The CDC routinely updates its guidelines for COVID-19 and other vaccines, and the more confident you are in the information, the more that translates to helping your patients make informed decisions.

Additionally, it would be best to stay current with vaccine misinformation to properly refute it when patients are concerned. You may respond to top vaccine myths with primary expert sources from the American Academy of Family Physicians, The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Listen to your patients' concerns

COVID-19 procedures have been adjusting and evolving ever since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Understandably, people are confused and skeptical. Instead of dismissing patients' concerns, it is essential that healthcare providers listen to their patients and discuss concerns with them.

Vaccine hesitancy is understandable and requires active listening to understand and address, particularly in marginalized populations historically mistreated. Do so without judgment in order to be most effective.

Review CDC booster guidelines with your patients

According to Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, only a small number of those eligible for bivalent boosters have received them.4 As the public health emergency ends and mask mandates seem to be left in the past, people no longer seem to feel a sense of urgency about staying vaccinated. In order to reach previously-vaccinated people and effectively convince them to receive bivalent boosters, patients should be reminded that:

  • The efficacy of vaccines wears off over time
  • Bivalent boosters add to the initial protection provided by the monovalent COVID-19 vaccines, according to CDC booster guidelines
  • The COVID-19 virus has changed since its first arrival, and the bivalent boosters protect against newer strains
  • Boosters do not provide full immunity. However, they are meant to lessen symptoms and help you recover more quickly from COVID-19

Now that the COVID-19 State of Emergency has ended, patients are more likely than ever to be confused about the need for vaccines. Still, healthcare providers must work to combat vaccine hesitancy and vaccine misinformation to continue to protect their patients.

Following CDC booster guidelines will help patients remain protected against the effects of COVID-19. With guidance from the CDC, DHS, and legitimate public health organizations, healthcare providers can continue to empower patients to protect themselves against COVID-19.