Biden faces pivotal moment with COVID-19 speech

 

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President Biden is facing rising COVID-19 challenges as he prepares to lay out new steps in the pandemic fight on Thursday.

The president will use a speech on Thursday to try to demonstrate he has a handle on the situation.

But after the pandemic receded in the United States earlier in the summer, the highly contagious delta variant has fueled a new spike, rising to roughly 150,000 cases and over 1,000 deaths per day.

This spike is different from those of last year, in that vaccines are now widely available, meaning the risk is now overwhelmingly for the unvaccinated.

While experts say there certainly is more the federal government can do, they also say part of the challenge is that a segment of the American population is simply refusing to get the vaccine, allowing the virus to continue to spread.

Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said it is important to “identify what the problem is here, and that is the anti-vaccine movement.”

“This isn’t like what it was last year,” he added. “This is willful.”

What’s coming in the speech? The full details aren’t yet clear, but it’s a six-part plan.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the six steps Biden will announce Thursday will include “requiring more vaccinations,” as well as boosting testing and “making it safer for kids to go to school.”

Psaki said that while the administration has made progress after fighting the pandemic for months, she acknowledged that “he’s going to lay out these six steps tomorrow because we have more work to do.

WHO Calls for Booster Halt Until 2022

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The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday called for rich countries to refrain from giving people booster doses of coronavirus vaccines until at least 2022.

WHO Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last month said wealthy nations should put a pause on boosters until the end of September. But that plea was largely ignored.

“We have been calling for vaccine equity from the beginning, not after the richest countries have been taken care of,” Tedros said during a news conference. “I will not stay silent when companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world’s poor should be satisfied with leftovers.”

What’s the goal: Tedros said the WHO’s targets are to support every country vaccinating at least 10 percent of its population by the end of this month, at least 40 percent by the end of this year and 70 percent of the world’s population by the middle of next year.

Almost 90 percent of high-income countries vaccinated at least 10 percent of their populations, and more than 70 percent have vaccinated at least 40 percent of their populations.

But “not a single low-income country has reached either target,” Tedros said.

Why it matters: Much of the developing world still doesn’t have access to the vaccines, despite global commitments and promises. Wealthy countries, including the U.S., are pushing ahead with boosters anyways. The Biden administration is debating internally with health officials about the details; experts have raised serious concerns about the ethics and whether the evidence even shows that the extra shots are necessary. But based on White House comments, the end goal is for boosters to start rolling out Sept. 20.

COVAX EXPECTS VACCINE DELIVERIES BELOW 30% BELOW TARGET

In related news, the program that’s aimed at getting vaccines to poor countries doesn’t have enough supply.

The COVAX program estimates that its global COVID-19 vaccine deliveries will fall almost 30 percent below its goal of sending out 2 billion doses by the end of the year.

The World Health Organization (WHO), the GAVI Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness predicted that by the end of 2021, about 1.4 billion doses would be available for the program designed to make shots more accessible to lower-income nations.

This year’s fourth quarter is expected to see an uptick in vaccine deliveries, but it will not be enough to fulfill the original target for the year, the international organizations forecast. The current “most likely scenario” is that another 1.1 billion doses will be provided between September and the end of the year.

Under the most likely forecast, COVAX would reach 2 billion doses available for delivery between January and February.

Why: The international organizations attributed the predicted shortfall to several factors, including restrictions on exports from the Serum Institute of India — a key supplier for vaccines — and problems increasing manufacturing at vaccine facilities, particularly those that supply Johnson & Johnson and the AstraZeneca vaccines.

Lags in regulatory approval for other vaccines created by U.S. company Novavax and Chinese firm Clover have also contributed to the lack of expected doses.