Biden gets updated COVID booster shot as White House urges Americans to follow suit
WASHINGTON – President Biden for the first time rolled up his sleeve on national television, it was December 2020. He had been elected just a few weeks earlier; the coronavirus vaccine was a rare, sought-after creature in large parts of the country.
Since then he has repeated the ritual several times and received his booster shots on camera to encourage uptake of the vaccine.
And he did so again on Tuesday when a member of the White House medical department administered it bivalent booster this is designed to protect recipients from Omicron subvariants, which are now dominating the pandemic, as well as the original coronavirus strain.
Uptake of the booster has been slow, with only 19.4 million people having received their bivalent booster. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Biden acknowledged this reality as he prepared for his own vaccination.
“It’s incredibly effective, but the truth is not enough people are getting it,” he said in his prepared remarks, delivered while flanked by senior public health officials in his administration, including Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Pandemic Response Team Coordinator and Dr. Anthony Fauci, his chief pandemic adviser, as well as the chief executives of several pharmacy chains.
“As a country, we have a choice to make,” Biden said, pointing to the coming months when colder weather will drive people indoors and there will be lots of travel and large gatherings during the holiday season.
Later in the day, Jha made the same point. “We know that winter is a time when viruses like COVID spread more easily,” he said at a White House news briefing, also addressing the possibility a tridemic: That is, the threat of COVID-19, the influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, spreading rampant at once.
Jha added that with a concerted vaccination effort, “this winter can look very different than last winter or the winter before that”.
Last year, the Omicron variant arrived in the United States just after Thanksgiving and caused disruption for much of the winter. Since then, it has further fragmented into sub-variants. Although the bivalent booster (so called because it was before both the original strain of the coronavirus and the Omicron variant) cannot be updated to counter each new variant, the Biden administration believes the booster will prove effective as long as COVID-19 continues to evolve along the Omicron lineage, sufficient for one shot per year to keep people updated on their coronavirus vaccinations.
“If You get it, you’re protected,” the president said Tuesday.
There was a certain amount of desperation in his voice. Although he declared the pandemic over last month, that was little more than a rhetorical phrase that many health experts criticized as premature. Even though life in the United States has returned to something close to normal, about 350 people keep dying every day across the country.
“Virtually every COVID death in America is preventable — virtually every one,” Biden said, citing the widespread availability of Paxlovid, a pill highly effective in treating severe COVID-19. When he contracted COVID in July, Biden took Paxlovid and never had more than mild symptoms.
The question for Biden and public health officials is how to bring public attention to a pandemic that many have relegated to the past — and how to keep the nation from relapsing in the months ahead.
“We made the vaccines free and available. We made the tests free and available. We made Paxlovid free and available. Please use them,” Biden appealed to the American public. “Use them.”
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