White House to push for COVID boosters and flu shot this fall

By AMANDA SEITZ
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration hopes to make getting a COVID-19 booster as routine as the annual flu shot.

It’s at the heart of his campaign to sell the newly authorized vaccine to an American public that has largely rejected COVID-19 boosters since they first became available last fall.

Shooting of the updated boosters, specially designed by Pfizer and Moderna to address the omicron strain, could begin within days. The US government has purchased 170 million doses and insists everyone will have free access to the booster.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr Ashish Jha said this latest round of vaccines will provide protection during the busy cold and flu season, in hopes of getting people through to get vaccinated. every year. Typically, at least half of American adults get the flu shot.

“We expect them to provide longer-lasting protection over time,” Jha said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press. “The goal is really to get to a point where people get regular COVID shots, the same way they get the flu shot.”

Community health workers in North Carolina, home to the lowest COVID-19 recall rate in the country, like the strategy, especially because of confusion among some people about vaccination schedules.

“I believe in keeping it simple,” said Marty Stamey, outreach coordinator for the Mountain Area Health Education Center in western North Carolina. “I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘I think I’ll just wait and try to do it like the flu shots. “”

The White House plan also relies in part on local health departments, providers and community groups to reach out and encourage people to get the updated reminder. Pharmacies, healthcare providers and state or local health departments are gearing up to text millions of people encouraging them to get a booster this fall, White House officials said.

Jha said he recommends most Americans get the booster by the end of October.

Yet this latest vaccination campaign faces several challenges.

A majority of Americans received their first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine when it was released last year, but have been more reluctant to receive a booster, with less than half having received their first booster since it was released. became available late last year. .

Congress has also failed to move forward on President Joe Biden’s request for $22.5 billion earlier this year for the COVID-19 response. Republicans slammed the request, pointing to the $1.9 trillion already spent responding to the pandemic. Strapped for funds, the government announced it would stop shipping home COVID-19 tests after Friday.

And COVID-19 funding is drying up for many community groups that have received millions of federal tax dollars to hire workers who have spent months reaching deep into neighborhoods with door knocking, mobile vaccination clinics and posters encouraging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

White House officials say these local leaders deserve a lot of credit for stamping out misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine and convincing many across the country that the vaccine will protect them.

“These are the really critical messengers,” Jha said.

This fieldwork has been crucial to getting people vaccinated in rural, Spanish-speaking and Haitian communities that the Migrant Clinicians Network has reached across Texas, California and Maryland with its $8.5 million federal grant. .

“Just having the vaccines available is one thing, but getting the shots in your arms is another,” said Amy Liebman, program manager for the nonprofit group.

Some of these local health organizations are also under strain as they strive to achieve low vaccination rates among children under 12. Only a third of children aged 5 to 11 have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine since becoming eligible late last year. Meanwhile, only 7% of children under 5 have received a first dose since it became available this summer.

Dr. Niharika Khanna of the University of Maryland School of Medicine has just started making strides in convincing new mothers that the vaccine is safe and effective for their babies.

Its program, which has hired more than 269 health care workers and administered more than 12,000 vaccines and boosters in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, is not quite ready to return to the surge of COVID-19 reminders.

“All of these people, all of these relationships that we have carefully cultivated are in danger of falling apart,” Khanna said. “Today, if you told me to recall, I would say no. I still need two to three weeks to really get these people going.

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AP White House correspondent Zeke Miller contributed to this report.