President Joe Biden will launch a more urgent campaign for Americans to get the COVID-19 booster vaccination Thursday as he unveils his winter plans to fight the coronavirus and its Omicron variant, with improved availability of vaccines and vaccines, but with no major new restrictions .
The plan includes an obligation for private insurers to cover the cost of COVID-19 testing at home and tightening testing requirements for people traveling to the United States regardless of their vaccination status. However, with some other nations closing their borders or re-imposing lockdowns, officials said Biden will not impose any further restrictions beyond his recommendation that Americans wear masks indoors in public places.
Biden said Wednesday that the upcoming strategy, to be unveiled during a speech to the National Institutes of Health, would fight the virus “not through shutdowns or bans, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, tests and more”.
The White House released details of Biden’s plan early Thursday ahead of the speech.
The Biden government considers the widespread adoption of booster vaccinations to be their most effective tool in fighting COVID-19 this winter. Medical experts say boosters offer improved and more permanent protection against COVID-19, including new variants.
Much is still unclear about the Omicron variant, including whether it is more contagious, whether it makes people more ill and whether it can thwart vaccines.
About 100 million Americans are eligible for boosters under current US policy, and more are added every day. Convincing those who have already been vaccinated to get another dose, officials say, will be far easier than vaccinating the approximately 43 million American adults who did not get the vaccine despite widespread public pressure to roll up their sleeves.
And while Biden’s compulsory vaccination or testing for employees of larger employers has been held back by legal challenges, the president on Thursday will renew his call for companies to move forward and impose their own mandates on workers so they can stay open without outbreaks.
To encourage more people to take the booster doses, the Biden government is increasing direct contact with the elderly – the population hardest hit by the virus. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will send a notification to all 63 million Medicare beneficiaries asking them to receive booster doses, the White House said. The AARP will work with the administration on educational campaigns for seniors.
To date, about 42 million Americans, about half of whom are seniors, have received a booster dose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week expanded their booster recommendation to cover all Americans aged 18 or over, starting six months after their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines.
The White House said the CDC is also developing new guidelines for schools to reduce or eliminate current quarantine requirements for those who are not fully vaccinated and exposed to the virus. The new guidelines, which the White House said will be released in the coming weeks, could include so-called “test-to-stay” guidelines that allow those considered to be close contacts to still go to school, but Wearing masks and being able to undergo serial tests to minimize learning losses and interruptions.
The government’s upcoming rule to require private insurers to cover home testing is still being worked out, and many details remain to be worked out, including the criteria under which they are reimbursable, officials said. Those covered by Medicare and Medicaid are not eligible, but the White House said up to 150 million people with private insurance would see easier and cheaper access to home testing.
Starting next week, all travelers to the United States, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, must demonstrate a negative COVID-19 test within one day of boarding their flights, the White House said. That’s now three days less for those who were vaccinated as an extra precaution against the Omicron variant. But the White House has put tougher options on hold, such as post-arrival testing or quarantine on arrival in the US
Biden is also extending its mask requirement on airplanes and other public transport, which expires in January, until at least mid-March, the White House said.
The administration also says there are more than 60 teams available to help them or their communities manage public health surges and bottlenecks at the start of winter, with half focused on strengthening hospital care and 20 on supporting lifesavers monoclonal antibody is targeted treatments.