The last thing President Biden wanted to talk about two weeks before the midterms was the COVID shots.
And yet there he was yesterday, not just urging people to get vaccinated, but rolling up his sleeves and getting his own booster shot.
This from the man who happily declared months ago that “the pandemic is over”. Well, not so much.
I guess the president, who contracted the coronavirus himself, could have waited until after the election. But I think the biggest fear in the White House is that a winter surge is coming that could bring its own administration of the vaccine program under intense political fire.
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Recent data showed that about 4% of Americans – around 11 million people – have received the new booster.
As The Washington Post points out, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows that half of Americans have heard little or nothing about the recall.
Why? Because the administration has stopped talking about it. Amid an election cycle that increasingly favors Republicans, not to mention the handling of Ukraine, gas prices and other challenges, there was little political percentage to raise a disappointing question. .
As a strong supporter of the vaccine program, I found most of what Biden said yesterday made sense. But good luck convincing a lot more people to get the latest booster, which is specifically for the dominant Omicron variant. Given the politicization of the program and a lot of conflicting advice, especially from the partially discredited CDC, a lot of people just tuned out.
“Get vaccinated,” Biden said. “Update your COVID vaccine. It’s incredibly effective, but the truth is too few people are getting it. We need to change that so we can all have a safe and healthy vacation.”
Biden’s pitch was that, with the exception of immunocompromised people, people should consider these boosters like an annual flu shot. (A bad flu season is also predicted, and many young children are being diagnosed with RSV, a respiratory infection that can cause serious harm.)
He also pointed out that Americans are still dying from COVID every day – the average is 350, compared to around 500 – and reminded us that we have already lost more than a million of our fellow citizens.
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The president’s argument is that the new booster is widely available, free of charge. He said the administration has sent several million home test kits — though he has fired some of “our friends in Congress” for not approving additional funding — and that if you catch the virus, you can get Paxlovid for free to help in treatment.
But as we now know, getting vaccinated does not prevent getting COVID. This means, in most cases, that your symptoms will be milder if you contract the virus.
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At the same time, when the expected winter surge occurs, it could be an entirely new virus variant, rendering Omicron targeting obsolete. Nobody knows.
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In short, Biden is sufficiently concerned about a cold weather disaster that he was willing to confuse his midterm message with yesterday’s speech. But like so many of his previous calls for a vaccine, it is likely to have little impact.