The Biden administration on Tuesday launched a six-week campaign to encourage Americans to get their updated COVID-19 vaccine dose before the end of the year, with a focus on seniors and others most at-risk of severe illness.
The goal, according to a White House fact sheet, is to “help avoid thousands of preventable COVID-19 deaths,” which have typically spiked after holiday gatherings.
The number of people dying each week from the virus is still more than 2,000, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, and hospital admissions average more than 3,000 daily.
COVID-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha on Tuesday had a firm message: "We can prevent nearly every death in America from COVID."
"The science on this is crystal clear. People get their booster. If you get infected, the chances you're going to end up super sick in the hospital is exceedingly low. That's the message. People need to get their updated vaccine."
About 35.3 million people have received the updated bivalent booster, which provides protection against the original coronavirus strain and the more-recent omicron variant. Yet that’s only a small portion of the 267.4 million people who got the original vaccine series.
One tenet of the new plan announced Tuesday is focused on making it more convenient to get vaccinated, adding locations beyond the 70,000 vaccination sites around the country.
That includes the Department of Health and Human Services focusing on mobile sites in rural and remote areas, through more flexible ordering options for providers. They’ll also launch pop-up vaccine clinics and educational booths at gatherings like sporting events and county fairs.
President Joe Biden on Monday noted the nation’s progress in the pandemic, with most Americans able to gather in large groups after many restricted holidays in the last two years.
“That's progress, and let's keep going,” he said. “We have new COVID vaccine updates to deal with new variants, to protect you and your loved ones.”
HHS also announced new funding: $350 million for community health centers and $125 million in grants to national organizations that serve people with disabilities and seniors.
And federal officials are also releasing new guidance Tuesday for nursing homes, requiring them to educate their residents “the benefits of lifesaving COVID-19 vaccinations and to offer the vaccines to their residents.”
The guidance will inform nursing homes that places with low vaccination rates “will be referred to state survey agencies for close scrutiny” and they may have to submit corrective action plans to achieve compliance.
Another major element of the campaign is a national information and education effort.
The nation’s top coalitions of health care providers this week put out a joint statement urging their members to remind patients about the vaccine and the flu shot in every interaction.
HHS will continue its “We Can Do This” public education campaign with TV and digital ads during the World Cup, plus others focused on adults over 50, especially Black, Latino, Asian American, Native American and rural audiences.
A new TV ad called “Can’t Wait,” began airing on November 21 in English and Spanish, according to the White House, urging people over 50 and those with chronic conditions to seek treatment right away if they get COVID-19.