To Fight COVID Variants, Biden Gonna Boost Grandma, Drive Her To Walgreens



With the the cold weather coming on and people spending more time indoors, the coronavirus is likely to have plenty of vectors to spread among people who haven't been vaccinated, and even to break through among folks who are fully vaccinated. The highly transmissible Delta variant is still very much with us, and the first American case of the Omicron variant has been identified, too, although there's still a lot we don't know about that variant.

To prevent further spread of the virus and keep the economic recovery going — weekly unemployment claims remain low, yay! — the White House is announcing today a number of new efforts to increase vaccination rates, get booster shots in arms, and actually make sure we're ready for winter and whatever Omicron turns out to be.


The multi-part plan aims to promote booster shots for all adults, to increase immunity among the roughly 60 percent of Americans who are fully vaccinated so far. Now that kids aged five to 11 can get the Pfizer vaccine, vaccination will be key to keeping schools open. The plan also has provisions aimed at

  • expanding the availability of free at-home testing,
  • increasing safety protocols for international travel,
  • keeping workplaces open while protecting employee health,
  • creating "rapid response teams" to deal with outbreaks,
  • getting the new COVID treatment pills to patients in time to avoid hospitalizations or death
  • improving global vaccination rates, and
  • making sure we're as ready as possible for whatever comes next.
Let's dive in and look at some of the more important provisions, but we'll say up front that there's a LOT, so if you have questions about something we don't mention here, you might find an answer in the White House fact sheet, too.

Get Yourself A Booster, Buster!

The CDC has issued new guidelines for all adults 18 and older to get a booster shot six months after their second MRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna), or two months after the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The administration will keep partnering with pharmacies to make free boosters available and easy to access, and will launch new public education campaigns to promote the shots. That campaign will especially focus on seniors, who are still the most vulnerable to the virus; AARP is joining up with Health and Human Services to reach out to seniors, including a special AARP booster hotline at 1-600-232-0233. AARP will also help people make appointments and even get free rides to get their booster shots. A separate outreach program will target Medicare beneficiaries, too.

Vaccinate Your Kiddos, For America

The White House notes that right now, 99 percent of public schools are open for in-person classes, and it would be darn nice for parents and students if they stay that way. To help make that happen the administration will launch family vaccination clinics at schools, pharmacies, and community health centers across the country, to get parents vaxxed or boosted and to get kids their first and second doses, too.

In addition, FEMA will set up family mobile vaccination clinics to hold vaccination events around the country, in partnership with state and local health authorities, expanding an effort already underway to reach individuals in underserved urban and rural areas.

The administration will also help schools improve COVID prevention policies so they can avoid closing altogether in case of local outbreaks, and to improve testing and quarantine practices.

And yes, the FDA is moving along on the approval process for vaccines for kids under five as well; the administration promises to give the agency all the resources it needs to get that done.

Home COVID Tests With No Studying — Or Cost

The administration will require insurance companies to cover the full cost of COVID testing at doctors' offices or pharmacies, and to get free home test kits to people who don't have private insurance. (Yes, private health insurance is a curse other countries don't have and there shouldn't be a for-profit company in the middle, but we aren't a socialist utopia yet.)

Safer International Travel

In addition to the temporary travel ban from southern Africa, which is aimed at slowing the possible spread of Omicron, the FAA is tightening its testing requirements for passengers on international flights, requiring proof of a negative COVID test taken within 24 hours of departure (previously, it had been 72 hours), regardless of the passenger's vaccination status. The requirement for all passengers on domestic flights and on public transportation to wear masks has also been extended through March 18.

Workplace Vaccinations

The administration's OSHA rule mandating that companies with 100 or more employees require workers to be vaccinated (or be tested weekly) is on hold due to a federal court order, so the most the administration can do now is to keep urging companies to voluntarily require vaccines. Companies and local governments have had generally high compliance when they mandate vaccines, so the trend may continue, let's hope.

Rapid Response Teams

The administration will use emergency funding to get federal emergency personnel — both military and civilian — to help staff hospitals in areas that have outbreaks, and to set up monoclonal antibody infusion sites to keep people who test positive out of hospitals. It will also boost volunteer emergency staffing through existing partnerships.

Antiviral Treatment Pills

The FDA yesterday recommended emergency authorization for Merck's antiviral pill, and approval for Pfizer's pill is likely to come soon as well, so the administration plans to secure at least 13 million courses of the treatments, which in clinical trials have been very effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths. The White House fact sheet says that's "six times the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations reported throughout this entire year," and the administration will take steps to ensure the pills are available to all, especially in underserved communities.

Global Vaccinations

The best way to prevent future variants is to stop the spread of the existing virus variants, and that means vaccinations, including shipping more doses to developing countries and supporting the UN's Covax vaccination program. The US will also work on ramping up vaccine production to make vaccines available.

Preparedness

While scientists believe existing vaccines and treatments for COVID will also be at least partly effective against Omicron, the administration also pledged support to accelerate research and development of a new MRNA vaccine tailored to fight the new variant, if it's needed. The fact sheet doesn't say so specifically, but we're pretty sure any such effort will not have a cheesy nickname from a science fiction TV show, either.

Stay calm, be prepared, get your boosters and take your kiddos for their shots, and we should get through the winter, folks.

[White House / CNBC / Reuters]

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