White House Covid coordinator urges people to get vaccinated before holidays

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha at the White House in Washington, October 25, 2022.

Jonathan Ernest | Reuters

As Covid and flu hospitalizations spiked in the weeks after Thanksgiving, White House Covid-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said families would be safer at upcoming holiday gatherings if they received their updated vaccines.

This year, hospitals are facing the simultaneous threat of Covid, influenza and RSV for the first time. Circulation of influenza and RSV was very low during the pandemic due to widespread masking and social distancing implemented in response to Covid, but as most people are returning to normal life, all three viruses are circulating widely.

As of December 14, the 7-day average of new weekly Covid cases reached 65,067, down 2.9% from the previous week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The good news here is that we can prevent these infections from turning into serious illness if people go out and get this updated bivalent vaccine,” Jha told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

Public health officials have said many people are likely more vulnerable to the flu and RSV this year because they haven’t been infected in the past two years, which means their immunity is lower. About 23,503 patients were admitted to hospital with the flu this week, the CDC reported, while RSV hospitalizations appear to have peaked in some states.

Hospitalizations of people with Covid have exceeded more than 5,000 a day on average, according to the CDC.

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said it was going to be a “tough few weeks,” and he told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the respiratory pathogen season of this year was the “worst in recent memory”.

Gottlieb said it had been a historic year for the flu in particular.

“80% of hospital beds are currently full. Hospitals haven’t been this full since the peak of the omicron wave last winter,” he said. “The difference is that last winter 25% of those hospital beds were full of Covid admissions. Right now only 6% are full of Covid admissions.”

While it’s safe to gather in groups this year, Jha said keeping up to date with vaccines will be key to keeping people out of hospital.

“I got the flu shot last year. I don’t expect it to protect me this winter,” he said. “I go out and get my flu shot every winter, the same way people have to go out and get their Covid shot.”

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