WASHINGTON — President Biden received his second coronavirus booster shot on Wednesday for the jab following comments from the White House about the need for additional pandemic-related funding from Congress before the new BA.2 subvariant sparks another wave of infection.
“It didn’t hurt a bit,” he said of the jab in his shoulder. A second booster for adults over 50 was approved by the Food and Drug Administration the day before†
In contrast, a lack of resources for masks, vaccines and therapies would harming the country’s ability to respond to a new wave of coronavirus, Biden argued in Wednesday’s comments.
“If we don’t invest, we make ourselves vulnerable,” Biden said a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced BA.2, which is at least 30% more transmissible than Omicron’s original BA.1 strain, had become dominant in the United States† “We can’t wait to be in the middle of a new wave to jump into action. It will be too late.”
Earlier this month, an attempt to raise $15 billion in new coronavirus funds failed, leaving the White House frustrated and begging lawmakers on Capitol Hill to reach an agreement on where the money should come from.
“This is crucial funding. The stakes are very real — and very high,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said during a briefing following Biden’s comments. “We don’t want to be caught with flat feet.”
In recent days, the White House has repeatedly described what it calls the “serious consequences” of Congressional failure to approve new COVID funding: shortage of booster doses; no more free monoclonal antibody treatments; no additional oral antiviral pills above the 20 million already secured; no opportunity to buy promising new antivirals; no money to secure preventative treatments for immunocompromised Americans; scaled back testing and monitoring capability to identify emerging variants; and less support for global vaccination efforts to end the pandemic once and for all.
Biden has recently been pushing for a return to normalcy, which he said on Wednesday would only have been possible because of his administration’s investments in the distribution of vaccines, high-quality masks and diagnostic tests for the home.
“We are now in a new moment in this pandemic,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that COVID-19 is over. It means COVID-19 no longer controls our lives.”
In recent days, several senior staffers — including press secretary Jen Psaki and her top deputy, Karine Jean-Pierre — have tested positive for COVID-19, in apparent acknowledgment of that fact.
The BA.2 subvariant does not appear to be more virulent than the Omicron or Delta strains of the coronavirus. Still, a significant spike in infections or hospitalizations could hold back government efforts to transcend the pandemic as a source of concern.
Attempts at a financing agreement have so far been unsuccessful, though the Democrats remain hopeful†
“This is not partisan; it’s a drug,” Biden said in his comments Wednesday, referring in particular to shortages in the supply of drugs that the White House has said could lead to preventable deaths. That argument applies equally well to vaccine efforts.
Biden too unveiled a new website, COVID.govwhich he described as “one-stop shop where anyone in America can find what they need to navigate the virus,” such as vaccination centers, test-to-treat sites, and mask distribution sites.
BA.2 has led to a sharp rise in COVID cases in many European countries that are just beginning to recover from this winter’s massive surge. hospital admissions also tap†
As BA.2 is becoming more common in the US, leading models predict that COVID cases will change course and begin climbing nationally in early April. In states where BA.2 is already dominant, such as New York, there have already been cases increased by 65% in the past two weeks†
It’s unclear if BA.2 will hit America as hard as Europe for a number of reasons, including the arrival of warmer weather, widespread immunity to recent Omicron infections, and a lower baseline of infections to begin with. But experts also say the US will be much less prepared and much more vulnerable than European counterparts like the UK if BA.2 takes off – and the situation gets more precarious by the day.
Part of it is about vaccination. Only 66% of the US population has received two injections; only 30% received three shots. The US ranks 65th and 62nd respectively on these two pivotal stats, neither of which have risen in months. Among those most in need of protection – seniors – the US has a booster rate of just 67%. In the UK and many European countries, that number is 90% or more. Studies show that without a booster, even “fully vaccinated” seniors are 10% to 20% less protected against Omicron hospitalization and death. Millions of American seniors also remain completely unvaccinated.
At the same time, America’s lack of preparedness is increasingly becoming a money problem.
On Wednesday, the federal Health Resources and Services Administration stopped accepting claims for testing and treatment of uninsured patients, citing “lack of adequate resources.” On April 6, the agency will stop compensating providers for vaccinating uninsured Americans — a group that numbered more than 31 million in 2020, according to federal data, and were disproportionately low-income or people of color.
As a result, molecular testing will now cost uninsured Americans between $100 and $200 in most cases, a prohibitive expense that will prevent many from getting tested at all — further obscuring the spread of the virus. During this winter’s Omicron wave, the US offered free tests to uninsured Americans at the rate of half a million per month, according to the American Clinical Laboratory Association†
The same goes for vaccination efforts, which are: winding through the land due to dwindling interest and funding – just as experts say boosters are getting even more essential for protecting vulnerable Americanswhose immunity to previous shots begins to wane.