WASHINGTON – The first time President Biden rolled up his sleeve on national television, it was in December 2020. He had just been elected a few weeks earlier; the coronavirus vaccine has been a rare and sought-after entity in much of the country.
Since then, he has repeated the ritual several times, receiving his booster shots on camera as a way to encourage vaccination.
And he did it again on Tuesday, when a member of the White House Medical Unit administered the bivalent recall which aims to protect recipients of the Omicron sub-variants that now dominate the pandemic, as well as the original coronavirus strain.
Booster uptake 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, which he delivered while surrounded by senior public health officials. of his administration, including Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House pandemic response. coordinator of the team, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, its main pandemic adviser, as well as the general managers of several pharmacy chains.
“As a country, we have a choice to make,” Biden said, referring to the coming months when colder weather drives people indoors and the holiday season will see lots of travel and big gatherings.
Later that day, Jha made the same point. “We know winter is a time when viruses like COVID spread more easily,” he said during a White House press briefing, also raising the possibility of a tridemici.e. the threat of COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, spreading rampantly at the same time.
Jha added that with a concerted vaccination effort, “this winter can be very different from last winter or the winter before.”
Last year, the Omicron variant arrived just after Thanksgiving in the United States, causing disruption for much of the winter. Since then, it has continued to split into sub-variants. Although the bivalent booster (so named because it protects against both the original coronavirus strain and the Omicron variant) cannot be updated to counter each new variant, the Biden administration believes that as long as COVID-19 continues to evolve along the Omicron lineage, the booster will prove effective, with one stroke per year sufficient to keep people informed about their coronavirus vaccines.
“Whether you get it, you’re protected,” the president said Tuesday.
There was a certain exasperation in his voice. Even though he declared pandemic last month, which amounted to little more than rhetorical talk, which many public health experts have called premature. Even as life has returned to something approaching normal in the United States, some 350 people keep dying across the country every day.
“Virtually all COVID deaths in America are preventable — virtually everyone,” Biden said, referring to the widespread availability of Paxlovid, a highly effective pill for treating severe COVID-19. When he contracted COVID in July, Biden took Paxlovid and never experienced more than mild symptoms.
The question for Biden and public health officials is how to bring public attention back to a pandemic that many have relegated to the past — and how to keep the nation from rolling backwards in the months ahead.
“We have made vaccines free and available. We have made testing free and available. We have made Paxlovid free and available. Please use them,” Biden pleaded to the American public. “Use them.”