The Biden administration is making a major push to get the updated Covid vaccine in arms ahead of what could be another fall surge of the virus as children head back to the classroom, and employees return to the workplace.
The plans include the acquisition of more than 170 million doses of the new boosters, which will be available to consumers without an out-of-pocket cost.
“We want Americans to know that the vaccine is here and that they shouldn’t wait” to get it, a senior administration official told NBC News on Thursday.
The plans urge schools across the United States to hold at least one vaccination clinic before Thanksgiving, as well as university-led vaccination campaigns this fall.
“We are thankfully at a point where Covid does not rule our lives today,” the official said, but “we have to remain vigilant.”
Overall, Covid cases have been falling in the U.S., down by 23.1% over the past two weeks, according to NBC News data. But some experts worry that with cooler weather and increased indoor gatherings the trend will be reversed.
The number of new Covid cases has risen among children by 14% in recent weeks, according to the latest data from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The Biden administration also suggests that updated Covid vaccines will become available on an annual basis, much like the yearly flu shot.
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There is hope that, armed with new vaccines, the upcoming fall and winter will not lead to the Covid surge seen in previous years, said Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease expert and an associate professor of medicine at the Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina.
“There is an effort here that we can redouble our efforts ahead of winter, when respiratory viruses tend to cause more problems,” Wolfe said.
“If that leaves us with half of the number of people who get infected and need to take 4, 5, 6 days off of work, there’s a social and economic gain,” he said. “That’s pretty profound.”
The new boosters from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech target the highly contagious BA.5 omicron subvariant, as well as the original coronavirus strain. The subvariant now accounts for more than 88% of new cases in the country.
Pfizer’s updated shot is authorized for people ages 12 and older, while Moderna’s is authorized for adults only.
The administration is also pushing Congress to approve an additional $22.4 billion in Covid funding. Without more funding, the official said, this could be the “last free” Covid shot.
“The president’s simplest message is: Don’t wait. Get a Covid shot this fall,” the senior administration official said. “Covid isn’t over.”
Berkeley Lovelace Jr. contributed.