Biden Calls on U.S. to Expand Shots, Boosters to Fight Surge
Biden Calls on U.S. to Expand Shots, Boosters to Combat Surge
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden called on health providers to expand the availability of coronavirus vaccines and booster shots, aiming to combat a winter surge of infections -- and hold off the new omicron variant.
Biden outlined a new strategy to curb the pandemic in a speech at the National Institutes of Health on Thursday, with cases rising in several states. He said his administration would also make free home Covid tests more available by requiring insurers to pay for them starting next month.
“My plan I’m announcing today pulls no punches in the fight against Covid-19,” he said. He lamented that the virus has “been very divisive” among Americans, saying it’s unfortunately become a political issue. “The actions I’m announcing are ones that all Americans can rally behind and should unite us in the fight against Covid-19,” he said.
Other parts of the strategy include requiring vaccinated air travelers to obtain a negative Covid test closer to their departures, extending a mask mandate for domestic travel and expanding availability of and advertising for booster shots.
Biden’s plan, in development when omicron emerged last month, is a call to action in a country where the pandemic has become a partisan battleground. Republican pushback is unfolding in Congress, statehouses and courts, including a threat of a government shutdown in protest over Biden’s vaccine mandate for bigger employers.
The plan stops short of lockdowns and other aggressive measures like those taken in Germany and elsewhere. Biden made a point of saying his plan “doesn’t include shutdowns or lockdowns.”
He is trying to head off omicron and blunt case surges in northern and midwestern states that were underway even before omicron was spotted.
The 7-day average of new U.S. cases was 82,000 as of Tuesday, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, down from 94,000 a week earlier -- though testing tends to fall over holidays and cases tend to spike afterward, leaving health officials bracing for a new wave heading into Christmas. About 63% of eligible people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated.
Minnesota announced the second known U.S. case of omicron. The person traveled domestically, was vaccinated and experienced only mild symptoms, state health officials said. New York reported the most daily Covid-19 cases since January.
In addition to vaccines and boosters, the looming arrival of antiviral pills will also help, he said. “Early indications are these treatments will remain effective in the face of omicron. We don’t know that for sure yet but that’s the hope and expectation,” Biden said.
Biden said he believes the emergence of omicron is persuading some holdouts to reconsider shots. “We hope that’s true,” he said.
The administration also said it would deliver 200 million previously pledged vaccine doses abroad over the next 100 days. “America’s doing our part and we’ll do more,” he said. But he added: “Not a single vaccine dose America ever sends to the rest of the world will ever come at the expense of any American.”
The administration, however, is shying away from other more strict measures, including requiring a PCR test instead of a less-accurate antigen test to fly to the U.S. Officials considered such a requirement but ultimately decided to allow rapid tests. Vaccinated travelers will have to obtain a negative test one day before their departures, instead of three.
The administration also hasn’t required vaccination for domestic air travel, though White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday the option remains under consideration.
Biden’s plan does not include other strategies used in some countries, such as quarantine requirements.
The first U.S. omicron case was revealed Wednesday, in a person in California who’d traveled last month to South Africa.
Biden’s chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, has said it will take a couple weeks for data to demonstrate the potency of the omicron variant. Its mutations signal that it’s far more easily transmitted, but it’s not yet clear if it leads to more severe cases.
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