WASHINGTON — President Biden received his second coronavirus reminder on Wednesday, sitting for the shot after delivering remarks from the White House on the need for additional pandemic-related congressional funding before the new BA subvariant .2 triggers another wave of infection.
“It didn’t hurt at all,” he said of the hit in his shoulder. A second booster for adults over 50 had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration the previous day.
A lack of funds for masks, vaccines and therapeutics could, on the other hand, harm the country’s ability to respond to a new coronavirus surge, Biden argued in his Wednesday remarks.
“If we don’t invest, we leave ourselves vulnerable,” Biden said a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that BA.2, which is at least 30% more transmissible than the original BA.1 strain of Omicron, had become dominant in the United States. “We can’t wait to find ourselves in the midst of another push to act. It will be too late.
Earlier this month, an effort to include $15 billion in new coronavirus funding collapsed, leaving the White House frustrated and begging lawmakers on Capitol Hill to reach a deal on where the funds will come from.
“This is critically important funding. The stakes are very real — and very high,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said during a briefing after Biden’s remarks. “We don’t want to be caught off guard.”
In recent days, the White House has repeatedly described what it calls the “serious consequences” of Congress’ failure to approve new COVID funding: a shortage of booster doses; no more treatments with free monoclonal antibodies; no additional oral antiviral pills beyond the 20 million already secured; no opportunity to purchase promising new antivirals; no money to guarantee preventive treatments for immunocompromised Americans; reduced testing and monitoring capacity to identify emerging variants; and less support for global vaccination efforts to end the pandemic once and for all.
Biden recently called for a return to normalcy, which on Wednesday he said had only been possible because of the investments his administration had made in distributing vaccines, high-quality masks and testing. home diagnostics.
“We are now in a new moment of this pandemic,” he said. “It does not mean that COVID-19 is over. This means that COVID-19 no longer controls our lives.
In recent days, several high-ranking staff members — including press secretary Jen Psaki and her deputy principal, 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 large spike in infections or hospitalizations could hamper the administration’s efforts to move beyond the pandemic as a cause for concern.
Efforts for a funding deal have not been successful so far, though Democrats remain hopeful.
“It’s not partisan; it’s medicine,” Biden said in his Wednesday remarks, referring specifically to shortages in the supply of therapeutics that the White House says could lead to preventable deaths. This argument applies just as easily to vaccine stockpiling efforts.
Biden also unveiled a new website, COVID.gov, which he described as “a one-stop-shop where anyone in America can find what they need to navigate the virus,” such as vaccination centers, testing places to treat and mask distribution sites. .
BA.2 triggered a precipitous increase in COVID cases in many European countries that were just beginning to recover from this winter’s huge surge. Hospitalizations also tick.
As the prevalence of BA.2 increases in the United States, leading models predict that COVID cases will reverse course and start climbing nationally in early April. In states where BA.2 is already dominant, such as New York, cases have already increased by 65% in the past two weeks.
It’s unclear if BA.2 will hit America as hard as Europe For several reasons, including the onset of warmer weather, widespread immunity to recent Omicron infections, and a weaker base of infections to begin with. Yet experts also say the US is far less prepared and far more vulnerable than its European counterparts like the UK if BA.2 takes off – and the situation is becoming more precarious by the day.
Part of it is vaccination. Only 66% of the American population has received two injections; only 30% received three injections. The US ranks 65th and 62nd respectively on these two crucial metrics, neither of which has budged in months. Among those most in need of protection – the elderly – the United States has a recall 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 immunized” seniors are 10% to 20% less protected against Omicron hospitalization and death. Millions of older Americans also remain entirely unvaccinated.
At the same time, America’s unpreparedness is increasingly becoming a money issue.
On Wednesday, the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration stopped accepting requests for testing and treatment for uninsured patients, citing “lack of sufficient funds.” On April 6, the agency will stop reimbursing providers for vaccinating uninsured Americans — a group that numbered more than 31 million in 2020, according to federal data, and who were disproportionately 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, further obscuring the spread of the virus. During this winter’s Omicron push, the United States provided free tests to uninsured Americans at the rate of half a million a month, according to the American Clinical Laboratory Association.
The same goes for vaccination efforts, which are winding down across the country due to dwindling interest and funding – just as experts say boosters are becoming even more essential to protect vulnerable Americans. , whose immunity to previous injections begins to wane.