Biden administration pushes booster shots as second pandemic winter approaches

U.S. public health officials approved the provision of booster shots to all adults on Friday, opening a new phase in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic as Americans prepare for another winter of rising infections and hospitalizations.

It’s a move several states, including California, have already taken amid fears that vaccines received earlier this year could be less effective as more people go on vacation and gather indoors.

The expanded availability of booster shots could aid President Biden’s efforts to limit the devastation of the pandemic, which has eluded his attempts to end it and is stalling his administration’s agenda.

“The public just wants normality back,” said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. “If it doesn’t work out, he has a big political problem ahead of him.”

Back-to-back decisions by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday will simplify the process for Americans seeking additional protection from the coronavirus.

Although booster shots were available for older Americans and those at high risk of infection, anyone who is at least 18 years old can now get another shot as long as it has been six months since their previous dose if they previously had the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna Vaccine , or two months if they got the shot from Johnson & Johnson.

“It’s a big step forward in accelerating our journey out of the pandemic,” Biden tweeted. “You can get your refresher and enjoy the holiday season knowing you have the highest level of protection.”

Expanded approval of booster shots has been swiftly handled by a government that has struggled to find ways to bring the pandemic under control, even as vaccines have been made widely available and free.

More than 60 million Americans are eligible for a vaccine but have not yet received one, and the more contagious Delta variant continues to spread across the country. On average, 1,000 people die from COVID-19 every day.

As cases rise again, the Biden administration has bought 10 million doses of Pfizer’s antiviral pill to treat the disease. The pill hasn’t been approved by the FDA yet, but clinical trials have shown promise and Biden plans to make it available for free once approved.

“This treatment could prove to be another critical tool in our arsenal that will accelerate our journey out of the pandemic,” Biden said in a statement.

The ongoing pandemic has frustrated a presidency that aims to end it.

“We are also tired and weary from the pandemic,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at Friday’s briefing. “What we can do is encourage action.”

Almost 196 million people are considered fully vaccinated and more than 30 million people have received booster shots. Biden has also pushed for immunization requirements to convince the hesitant or unwilling to get their first shots, despite Labor Department regulations for private companies embroiled in litigation with Republican attorneys general. Biden is also implementing vaccination requirements for federal employees and contractors.

Psaki acknowledged that the government’s powers to end the coronavirus crisis without American cooperation are limited.

“We did everything humanly possible,” she said. “At a certain point people have to get vaccinated, get vaccinated and protect themselves.”

How the next few months unfold could change how the country views Biden’s handling of the coronavirus, said Zelizer, the Princeton historian.

“It’s the kind of crisis that if it flares up over the next few months, everything will be reversed pretty quickly,” he said.

Biden suffered a setback earlier this year when his administration announced that vaccinated Americans would no longer be required to wear masks, only for those guidance to be overturned as the Delta variant began to spread.

“It’s like PTSD over PTSD,” said John Anzalone, a Democratic pollster who has worked with Biden. “It has a huge impact on how people see life.”

According to FiveThirtyEight, which analyzes poll data, Biden’s approval rating for the pandemic has fallen since July.

Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray said the battle with the coronavirus has fueled a perception among some Americans that Biden is not as competent as he promised voters.

“While people are okay with the policy, they want to see that he can implement it in a way that gets us back to normal,” he said.

Reaching normality is a challenge. dr Amesh Adalja, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, wasn’t sure if enhanced boosters would have a significant impact, saying they’re mostly useful for people at high risk of serious illness.

“It’s the first and second doses that matter most as we head into winter, not extra doses,” he said.

Eventually, he said, the virus will be “endemic,” meaning it will continue to circulate at lower levels.

dr Robert Wachter, chair of the medical school at UC San Francisco, described the end of the pandemic in a similar way. He said the coronavirus “is here to stay for many years, maybe forever”.

Vaccinated people will likely need regular booster shots, he said, and it’s “almost inevitable” that the unvaccinated will eventually contract COVID-19.

However, he was more confident that Friday’s decision to expand booster vaccinations could have a positive impact. Wachter sees people who received their last vaccination more than six months ago as somewhere between fully vaccinated and unvaccinated in terms of protection from the virus.

“Increasing their level of protection will not only protect them from COVID, but should also significantly reduce the level of community spread, thereby helping the community as a whole,” he said. Biden administration pushes booster shots as second pandemic winter approaches

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