Joe Biden is set to announce new actions to combat the coronavirus, including a nationwide campaign encouraging vaccine boosters, an expansion of at-home tests, and stricter international travel restrictions.
Faced with the emergence of the Omicron variant and political backlash from Republicans, US President Barack Obama will visit the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, on Thursday to lay out a pandemic battle plan for the winter months.
According to the White House, Biden will announce steps to ensure that the nearly 100 million eligible Americans who have not yet received their booster shot do so as soon as possible. The first US case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was identified in California on Wednesday, adding urgency to the effort.
During December, the president will pledge to increase pharmacy availability, while pharmacy partners will send millions of texts, phone calls, and emails to eligible customers with instructions on how to schedule an appointment or walk in for a booster shot.
There will also be a public education campaign to encourage adults to get booster shots, with an emphasis on the elderly. Paid advertising across multiple channels, engagement with community organizations, and media campaigns will all be part of it.
On Wednesday, Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser on Covid-19, told reporters at the White House that boosting was “very important,” especially given the rise in antibodies after a third dose.
“Even though we don’t have a lot of data on it,” he continues, “there’s every reason to believe that kind of increase you get with the boost would be helpful at least in preventing severe disease of a variant like Omicron.”
The emergence of Omicron has demonstrated the virus’s tenacity, which is still dragging down Biden’s political fortunes. According to a recent poll, voters are split on his handling of the pandemic, with 47 percent approving and 49 percent disapproving.
However, the White House defended his record, noting that when he took office, more than half of schools were closed, whereas today 99 percent are fully open and in person. On Thursday, the president will announce plans to vaccinate more children aged five and older.
Among these are the opening of hundreds of family vaccination clinics across the country, which will provide a “one-stop shop” for first shots for parents, teenagers, and children, as well as boosters for those who qualify. Hundreds of community health centers across the country will host family vaccination clinics on “family vaccination days” throughout December.
Biden will also lay out a strategy to ensure that Americans have free at-home testing. More than 150 million people with private insurance will be able to get at-home tests reimbursed; those who are not covered will be able to get at-home tests through health centers and rural clinics.
With the threat posed by the Omicron variant still unknown, the US will tighten pre-departure testing protocols early next week, requiring all inbound international travelers, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, to test within one day of departure.
“We have really strengthened our international travel system pretty dramatically over the last month or so,” a senior administration official said during a press conference.
“We believe that tightening that testing requirement for pre-departure will help catch more potential cases of people who may be positive when they fly into the country and so now is the right time to do it, and we can implement it very quickly.”
“The masking requirement is already in place on domestic flights,” the official added, “and we will be extending that requirement from January all the way until mid-March.”
In the United States, the pandemic has killed nearly 780,000 people. Almost 60% of Americans have received all of their vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance this week recommending that every adult get a flu shot.