US President Joe Biden receives an updated coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine
US President Joe Biden receives an updated coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine while launching a new plan for Americans to receive booster shots and vaccinations, onstage in an auditorium on the White House campus in Washington, U.S. October 25, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

UPDATE 3-Biden gets latest COVID vaccine, urges Americans to do same

Washington: US President Joe Biden rolled up his sleeve and received an updated COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, using the occasion to urge more Americans to get the booster before the upcoming holiday season, especially seniors.

"I'm calling on all Americans to get their shot just as soon as they can," Biden said shortly before a doctor gave him the new shot.

With some Americans resistant to the vaccines, Biden urged them to put partisan politics aside, noting that more than 1 million people in the United States have died from COVID-19.

"We can do so much now to reduce the number of people who die from this disease. We have the tools, we have the vaccines, we have the treatments. None of this is about politics. It's about your health and the health of your loved ones," he said.

Only 20 million people in the United States have received an updated COVID booster, and just one in five seniors, the White House said last week. The new "bivalent" shots target currently circulating Omicron subvariants of the virus as well as the original version.

Biden said more progress is needed and urged people to get their booster by the end of October in order to provide protection over the holidays.

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha told reporters that a large majority of Americans should get the vaccine as an annual shot.

He said the spread of the virus could accelerate during the winter months and that the vaccine is the best way for Americans to protect themselves.

The onset of flu season in the United States is coinciding with reports of a spike in cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, especially in children, straining hospitals in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus is still spreading and claiming lives, with the United States reporting 260,808 new cases a week and 2,566 deaths, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show.

New efforts to increase vaccinations include a #VaxUpAmerica Family Vaccine Tour to be launched by the Department of Health and Human Services, with pop-up vaccination events at Head Start centers, nursing homes and community health centers.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will send a second email reminder about the updated vaccine to 16 million people who signed up for Medicare emails, the White House said.

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha
White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha joins Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre for the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S. October 25, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

Biden wants each school district, college and university to host at least one vaccination clinic by Thanksgiving, while urging employers to offer paid time off for vaccination and host on-site vaccination clinics for employees.

"Nearly every death is preventable," he said.

Annual COVID shots

The United States is likely to start recommending COVID-19 vaccines annually, health officials said on Tuesday, as new boosters designed to fight currently circulating variants of the coronavirus roll out.

By the end of this week, 90% of Americans will live within five miles (8 km) of sites carrying updated vaccines, US health secretary Xavier Becerra said at a White House briefing.

Officials said people could get the new boosters this fall or winter alongside their regular annual flu shots.

President Joe Biden said separately in a statement that for most Americans, "that means one COVID-19 shot, once a year, each fall."

U.S. eyes annual shots as updated COVID vaccines roll out one COVID-19 shot, once a year, each fall." "a large majority of Americans, we are moving to a point where a single annual COVID shot should provide a high degree of protection against serious illness all year. That's an important milestone."

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said in the briefing that for "a large majority of Americans, we are moving to a point where a single annual COVID shot should provide a high degree of protection against serious illness all year. That's an important milestone."

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said even with the seven-day average of COVID hospitalizations down 14% to 4,500 per day, annual shots could save thousands of lives.

"Modeling projections show that an uptake of updated COVID-19 vaccine doses similar to an annual flu vaccine coverage early this fall could prevent as many as 100,000 hospitaliaations and 9,000 deaths, and save billions of dollars in direct medical costs," she said.

Top US infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said unless a dramatically different variant emerges, annual vaccines should offer enough protection for most people, but that some vulnerable groups might need more frequent vaccinations.

"We likely are moving towards a path with a vaccination cadence similar to that of the annual influenza vaccine, with annual, updated COVID-19 shots matched to the currently circulating strains for most of the population," he said.

The redesigned boosters, green-lighted by U.S. health regulators last week, aim to tackle the BA.5 and BA.4 Omicron subvariants, which account for over 88% and 11% of circulating viruses, respectively, Walensky said.

The so-called bivalent vaccines also still target the original version of the virus.

"For the last two years, this virus has continued evolving while our vaccines have stayed the same, but now we have a vaccine that matches the dominant strain out there," Jha said.

"For the first time since December of 2020, these vaccines are vaccines that have caught up with the virus." Regulators have so far backed COVID boosters for those aged 12 and older from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna's updated shot for those 18 and older.

Jha said it was not yet clear when they could be approved for younger children, but that there may be an update on the timing later in the fall.

He said the new vaccines will remain available for free. But because Congress has not provided enough COVID response funding, this comes at the cost of pulling other resources like personal protective equipment and at-home tests, leaving the national stockpile ill-equipped to deal with another surge in cases.

Becerra said there was enough vaccine supply for the fall campaign, but the future is uncertain.

"We may have the vaccines today for folks for this fall vaccine effort. We don't know what's coming next. We don't know what the next generation of vaccines will look like if we don't have the resources to continue that research going," he said.