Joe Biden’s top COVID advisor has said the White House now wants people to have an annual jab to protect against the virus, saying it should be as routine as the flu shot.
Dr Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator, on Tuesday confirmed a long-hinted policy of annual vaccinations.
‘As the annual flu vaccination campaign kicks into high gear later this month and into early October, we expect millions will choose to get their COVID-19 shot at the same time, or over the course of the fall when people go in for routine checkups,’ he said.
‘The good news is you can get both your flu shot and COVID shot at the same time. It’s actually a good idea.
‘I really believe this is why God gave us two arms — one for the flu shot and the other one for the COVID shot.’
Dr Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator (right), and the health secretary, Xavier Becerra (left) are seen on Tuesday during a COVID briefing
In the spring, as it became apparent that an annual jab would likely be the preferred policy, some experts questioned whether the data supported an annual jab.
‘It’s alarming that there hasn’t been organization around these vital questions so that we can actually answer them in a very enlightened and data-driven and knowledgeable manner,’ said Luciana Borio, a former acting chief scientist at the FDA who is now a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.
She said in April: ‘It’s so reactive. And we know that this just snowballs. And we end up being stuck with decisions that don’t really make sense.’
But on Tuesday, the White House administrators insisted that an annual shot was the best tool to control the pandemic.
By the end of this week, 90 percent of Americans will live within five miles of sites carrying updated vaccines, Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said at a White House briefing.
Xavier Becerra, the Health Secretary, is seen on Tuesday following the White House meeting
Becerra is pictured inside the White House during Biden’s Cabinet meeting
President Joe Biden said separately in a statement that for most Americans, ‘that means one COVID-19 shot, once a year, each fall.’
Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that even with the seven-day average of COVID hospitalizations down 14 percent 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 hospitalizations and 9,000 deaths, and save billions of dollars in direct medical costs,’ she said.
Top U.S. 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.
Jeremy Oyague, right, a registered nurse with the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, administers a COVID booster at a vaccination clinic on August 23
Janaldo Mims, 64, left, gets a COVID-19 booster shot in Denver, Colorado, on August 5
Walensky noted that the current COVID trends are encouraging, but said boosters were essential to prevent another surge
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 percent and 11 percent 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.
His department last week said the government’s vaccine and antiviral treatment supplies would run out over the next year, meaning they would start being sold commercially sooner than previously expected.
The government also cited a lack of funding when it said Americans would no longer be able to order free at-home COVID tests from its COVIDTests.gov website.
Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group