4.4M Americans roll up their sleeves for an omicron-focused booster

4.4M Americans roll up their sleeves for an omicron-focused booster

US health officials say 4.4 million Americans have rolled up their sleeves for the updated COVID-19 booster. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the count up Thursday as public health experts bemoaned President Joe Biden’s recent statement that “the pandemic is over.”

The White House said more than 5 million people received the new boosters by its own estimate which delays reporting in states.

Health experts said it was too early to predict whether demand would match the 171 million doses of new boosters the US ordered for the fall.

“No one would look at our flu shot intake at this point and be like, ‘Oh, what a disaster,'” said Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the School of Public Health Johns Hopkins Bloomberg. “If we start to see a spike in cases, I think we’ll see a lot of people getting the (new COVID) vaccine.”

The temporary shortage of Moderna’s vaccine has caused some pharmacies to cancel appointments while encouraging people to reschedule the Pfizer vaccine. The issue was expected to be resolved as government regulators completed an inspection and cleared batches of vaccine doses for distribution.

“I expect this to increase in the coming weeks,” said the White House’s COVID-19 coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha. “We were thinking and talking about this as an annual vaccine like the flu vaccine. Flu vaccination season peaks in late September and early October. We are just continuing our education campaign. So we expect to see, despite this being a strong start, we expect this to grow even stronger.”

Some Americans who plan to get the shot, which is designed to target the most common omicron strains, said they are waiting because they recently had COVID-19 or another booster. They are following public health advice to wait several months to fully utilize the antibodies they currently have to fight the virus.

Others are scheduling shots closer to holiday gatherings and the winter months when respiratory viruses spread more easily.

Retired hospital chaplain Jeanie Murphy, 69, of Shawnee, Kansas, plans to get the new booster in a few weeks after undergoing minor knee surgery. There is a lot of interest among her neighbors from what she sees on the Nextdoor app.

“There’s a lot of discussion going on among people who are ready to make appointments,” Murphy said. “That was exciting for me. For every person who hasn’t been seen, 10 or 12 people will jump in and say, ‘You’re crazy. You just have to go get the shot.”

Biden later acknowledged criticism of his comments about the pandemic being over and clarified that the pandemic is “not where it was.” Murphy was undeterred by the initial traffic. She believes the disease has entered a steady state when “we’ll get COVID shots in the fall the same as flu shots.”

Experts hope she’s right, but they’re waiting to see what infection levels winter brings. The summer beach could see another surge in numbers, hospitalizations and deaths, Dowdy said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who asked a panel of biodefense experts Thursday what keeps him up at night, asked that half of vaccinated Americans never received an initial booster dose.

“We have a vulnerability in our population that will continue to disrupt our social order,” Fauci said. “I think we need to do better as a nation.”

Some Americans who received the new shots said they are excited about the idea of ​​focusing the vaccine on the versions now in circulation.

“Give me all the science you can,” said Jeff Westling, 30, an attorney in Washington, DC, who received the new booster and flu shot Tuesday, one in each arm. He participates in the combat sport of jujitsu, so he wants to protect himself from infections that may come with close contact. “I have no problem trusting people who are tasked with looking at the evidence.”

Meanwhile, Biden’s pronouncement was echoed in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday via social media.

“We still have a problem with COVID. We are still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over,” Biden said as he walked through the Detroit auto show. “If you notice, nobody is wearing masks. Everyone seems to be in pretty good shape. And so I think it’s changing.”

By Wednesday on Facebook, when the Kansas health department posted where residents could find the new booster shots, the first commenter quipped:

“But Biden says the pandemic is over.”

The president’s statement, despite his efforts to clarify it, adds to public confusion, said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington.

“People are not sure when is the right time to get a boost. ‘Am I eligible?’ People are often confused about what is the right option for them, even where to look for that information,” said Michaud.

“Anytime you have mixed messages, it hurts the public health effort,” Michaud said. “Because of the mixed messages from the President’s statements, that job is much more difficult.”

University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi said he worries the president’s announcement has taken on a life of its own and could stall prevention efforts.

“That soundbite has been around for a while, and it’s going to spread like wildfire. And it will give the impression that ‘Oh, we have nothing else to do,’” said Salemi.

“If we’re happy with 400 or 500 people dying every day from COVID, that’s a problem,” Salemi said. “We can do better because most, if not all, of those deaths are completely preventable with the tools we have.”

New York City photographer Vivienne Gucwa, 44, received the new booster on Monday. She has had COVID twice, once before vaccines were available and again in May. She was vaccinated with two Moderna shots, but did not receive the original boosters.

“When I saw that the new booster could fight omicron variant I thought, ‘I’m doing that,'” Gucwa said.

“I don’t want to deal with Omicron again. I was very happy to update the boosters.”


AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard and AP White House Correspondent Zeke Miller contributed. ___

The Associated Press Department of Health and Science is supported by the Department of Science Education of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all matters.

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