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COVID-19 is rising once again. Here are five things you need to know.


By now, we had all hoped the pandemic would be largely behind us. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Here’s the latest.

Due to the combination of the highly contagious Delta variant and the number of people who remain unvaccinated, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths remain more than twice as high as the same time last year. But not all of the news is bad. Here are five things about COVID-19 you need to know now.

1. Third vaccine shots, also known as booster shots, are now available to certain people.

To help people with moderately to severely compromised immune systems mount an effective immune response to provide protection against COVID-19 and to reinforce the immune response in certain people whose immunity may be waning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that these individuals receive a third shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.

For people with moderately to severely compromised immune systems who received a primary course of two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, the CDC recommends a third dose of the same vaccine.

For people age 65 and older or residing in long-term care, age 18-64 with conditions that put them at high risk for severe COVID-19, and for people 18-64 whose jobs expose them to high risk for COVID-19 and who received a primary course of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, the CDC recommends a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months after their second dose. Noteworthy about this guidance is that the only vaccine authorized for the booster shot is the Pfizer vaccine. If you initially received either the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you are currently not eligible for a booster shot. The FDA and CDC expect to review the safety and effectiveness of booster doses of these vaccines in the coming months.

The NJ Department of Health is planning to reopen certain mega-sites for the administration of booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to those eligible. Additional details will be shared as they are available. Retail pharmacies are already offering booster doses to those eligible.

2. COVID vaccinations are safe and strongly recommended for pregnant women.

Organizations including the CDC and the leading authorities on obstetric care, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM), recommend COVID-19 vaccinations for pregnant women.

According to the CDC, pregnant women have a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, including hospitalization, intensive care or being put on a ventilator. Pregnant women with COVID-19 also have a higher risk of preterm birth. As CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says, “The vaccines are safe and effective, and it has never been more urgent to increase vaccinations as we face the highly transmissible Delta variant and see severe outcomes from COVID-19 among unvaccinated pregnant people.”

Read the CDC’s data regarding the safety of COVID-19 vaccinations in pregnancy.

3. Although the Delta variant is causing more COVID-19 infections, vaccines are still highly effective.

The Delta variant has become the most common strain of COVID-19, accounting for 98.4 percent of COVID-19 cases tested in August according to the NJ Department of Health. According to the CDC, the Delta variant is more contagious, may cause more severe illness, and has resulted in more fully vaccinated people getting COVID-19 (which are called breakthrough infections).

While the COVID-19 vaccines are not 100% effective, especially against the Delta variant, they remain highly effective in preventing severe illness and hospitalization. In one study, the vaccines were shown to be 90 percent effective against infection prior to the Delta variant becoming the predominant strain. Once the Delta variant became dominant, the effectiveness was still 80 percent.

In New Jersey, more than three quarters of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in August weren’t fully vaccinated, according to a New Jersey Hospital Association report of patients who provided their vaccination status.

In short, the vaccines provide the best protection against serious illness and death.

4. Employers with self-funded health plans are increasingly imposing a surcharge on unvaccinated employees.

COVID-19 vaccines have been widely available for some time now. Yet, according to the Mayo Clinic, only 56 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated. Aside from the human toll, the collective cost of hospitalizations for unvaccinated adults is staggering, according to the Peterson-KKF Health System Tracker. According to the organization’s estimates, the cost of hospitalizing unvaccinated adults in June through August 2021 was $5.7 billion.

The organization’s evaluation of different sources revealed an average adult hospitalization cost of about $20,000. The average out-of-pocket costs for patients was roughly $1,300.

The rest of the hefty tab is paid by public and private insurance, thus ultimately by taxpayers, businesses and everyone with health insurance. To encourage more employees to get vaccinated and citing the steep costs of covering employees who are hospitalized with COVID-19, some employers with self-funded health coverage have begun making employees who are unvaccinated pay an additional surcharge.

5. Some COVID-19 tests are not covered by health insurance.

If your doctor determines that you should be tested for COVID-19 – either because you have COVID-19 symptoms or you had been exposed to someone who’s been infected – out-of-pocket costs for testing for Horizon members will be waived as they have been since the start of the pandemic.

However, if you need to be tested as part of a “return-to-work” program, to attend an event like a concert, or to comply with travel guidelines, these tests are not covered and 100% of the cost may be your responsibility. Regulatory guidance issued by the federal government specifically excluded any tests not primarily intended to diagnose COVID-19 for medical or treatment purposes. If your employer requires you to produce a test, the cost of that test may be your responsibility.

As we continue the fight to block the spread of COVID-19, testing, wearing masks indoors, social distancing and getting fully vaccinated serve as our best defenses. This “Swiss cheese model” of adding extra layers of protection is especially important right now, as the CDC COVID Data Tracker reports that all of New Jersey’s counties, like most counties across the country, have high rates of transmission.

The good news in the face of growing concerns over Delta and other variants: Getting fully vaccinated is easier than ever before. Appointments are easy to make and you do not have to pay anything out-of-pocket — no coinsurance, deductibles or copayments. Make your vaccination appointment today