Th Hill

President Biden on Thursday admonished unvaccinated Americans and some elected officials for exacerbating the coronavirus pandemic as he laid out new, more aggressive steps his administration is taking to confront COVID-19.

President of the United States of America Joe Biden

“We have the tools to combat COVID-19, and a distinct minority of Americans, supported by a distinct minority of elected officials, are keeping us from turning the corner. These pandemic politics, as I refer to it, are making people sick, causing unvaccinated people to die,” Biden said in prepared remarks from the State Dining Room of the White House.

“We cannot let these actions stand in the way of protecting the large majority of Americans who have done their part and want to get back to life as normal,” he said.

Biden captured the frustration expressed by vaccinated Americans, saying the U.S. has made substantial progress against the virus but that the remaining 25 percent of eligible Americans — about 80 million people — who have not yet gotten vaccinated for COVID-19 threaten those gains. He went on to address unvaccinated people directly, telling them that his patience is “wearing thin.”

“My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see? We have made vaccinations free, safe and convenient. The vaccine is FDA approved. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We’ve been patient but our patience is wearing thin and your refusal has cost all of us,” Biden said. “So please, do the right thing.”

Biden, without naming anyone, also accused some elected officials of “actively working to undermine the fight against COVID-19.”

“Instead of encouraging people to get vaccinated and mask up, they are ordering mobile morgues for the unvaccinated dying of COVID-19 in their communities,” Biden said. “This is totally unacceptable.”

Biden’s remarks represented a notable shift in tone as he more sternly confronts Americans who have not got the COVID-19 vaccine and conservative politicians who have spouted anti-vaccine messages. Biden has previously sparred with the Republican governors of Texas and Florida for seeking to ban mask mandates in schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

At one point on Thursday, Biden suggested the unvaccinated could reverse U.S. gains in the economic recovery. 

On Thursday, Biden announced a new rule that will require all private employers with upwards of 100 employees to mandate weekly testing as well as plans to require vaccines for most federal workers and contractors. Biden also said he would require employers to provide paid time off to get the vaccine and he urged large entertainment venues to require proof of vaccination or testing to gain entry.

Biden, who two months ago was celebrating the country’s progress against COVID-19 with a large outdoor Independence Day gathering, warned that the U.S. faces a difficult road ahead against the highly contagious delta variant. At the same time, he stressed that the situation would not be as dire as last winter because of the strength of the vaccines in combating serious illness.

“We’re in a tough stretch and it could last for a while,” Biden said.

COVID-19 cases have risen across the U.S. after a low point earlier this year, as the delta variant has spread among unvaccinated Americans. In some areas of the country, such as Texas, COVID-19 patients have overwhelmed hospitals.

Just over 75 percent of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while over 64 percent are fully vaccinated. Polls have shown that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to shun the vaccine.

The White House has spent months encouraging vaccinations by turning to celebrities, reaching younger Americans on social media, backing promotions and incentive programs, and working to address questions and concerns among various communities.

Biden, who was initially hesitant to support vaccine mandates, at the end of July directed federal workers to either attest to their vaccination status or submit to regular testing. The new order announced Thursday is a more aggressive step. The White House said that federal workers will have 75 days to become fully vaccinated, with limited exceptions for religious or medical reasons, and that not doing so could result in disciplinary action including termination. The new Labor Department rule impacting private sector employers is expected to impact millions.  

Biden’s announcement triggered swift backlash from Republicans, with a handful of GOP governors accusing him of federal overreach and vowing to fight him in court.

But polls have showed that a majority of Americans support vaccine mandates, suggesting that most of the public will be on Biden’s side even if he incurs criticism from GOP elected officials and voters.

“We have the tools to combat the virus if we can come together as a country and use those tools,” Biden said, expressing confidence that the U.S. can ultimately get beyond the virus. “We can and we will turn the tide on COVID-19. It will take a lot of hard work and it will take some time.”


Ministers hoping vaccines watchdog will back mass rollout of booster jabs

Government awaits JCVI decision as MHRA says third jab of Pfizer or AstraZeneca would be safe

Gloved hands fill a syringe
A healthcare professional draws up a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Ministers have piled pressure on the vaccines watchdog to approve a large-scale programme of Covid booster injections in time for winter, as the number of people in hospital with the virus exceeded 8,000 for the first time since March.

On Thursday the UK’s medicines regulator granted emergency approval for the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines to be used as third shots to tackle potentially waning immunity, also putting pressure on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to approve a new jab programme.

Hours later, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, said he was confident that such injections would begin imminently. “We are heading towards our booster programme,” he said. “I’m confident that our booster programme will start later this month, but I’m still awaiting the final advice.”

The JCVI is expected to announce imminently whether it has approved boosters, and if so on what scale. Members of the committee, which advises UK health departments, met virtually for more than four hours on Thursday and were briefed on interim results from the Cov-Boost study.

While the study’s results have not yet been made public, they were cited as supporting evidence by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in its emergency approval of the vaccines to be used as boosters.

Javid and ministerial colleagues are believed to be impatient to begin a mass rollout of booster jabs, as has already happened in Israel. However, the JCVI could disagree; it has described the issues under discussion as complex and containing numerous ethical implications.

One of the leading figures in the development of the Oxford AstraZeneca jab, Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, has said a mass coronavirus vaccine booster campaign may not be necessary.

Immunity was “lasting well” for most people, she told the Daily Telegraph on Friday, and suggested extra doses should be directed to countries with a low rate of vaccination.

The JCVI has already approved third jabs for around 500,000 very clinically vulnerable adults and older children. Even if it does approve boosters, it could decide that these should initially be limited to older adults, or those with other health conditions.

Last week the JCVI declined to approve the use of Covid vaccinations for all 12- to 15-year-olds, something also strongly sought by ministers, instead expanding the use of jabs for those in the age group with severe health conditions.

The decision to withhold mass vaccinations for older children could still be reversed by a review of wider evidence by the chief medical officers of the four UK nations, which is also due to report imminently.

The MHRA’s announcement stressed that while it had approved booster vaccines in principle, it remained the JCVI’s decision over how, if at all, they could be used. “This is an important regulatory change as it gives further options for the vaccination programme, which has saved thousands of lives so far,” said Dr June Raine, the MHRA’s chief executive.

“It will now be for the JCVI to advise on whether booster jabs will be given and, if so, which vaccines should be used

While some scientists welcomed the MHRA’s move, others questioned whether it was ethical to provide millions of extra jabs to people with existing immunity when so many people worldwide had not yet received any vaccinations – a consideration that is not in the JCVI’s remit.

“By any standards this is good news,” said Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London. “As we see in daily breakthrough caseload, Delta has really stress-tested our defences. While UK cases are held down to about 40,000 a day as we head into autumn, there’s clearly little room for complacency. Data from Israel has already shown clearly that a third dose can enhance protection substantially to bring breakthroughs right down.”

But Prof Andrew Hayward, the director of the UCL institute of epidemiology and healthcare, suggested that while the announcement was good news for countries with a plentiful supply of jabs, it could have downsides when it comes to fair distribution of vaccines around the world.

“Those who have had any doses of vaccine will be at much lower risk of severe Covid-19 than those who have had none – so whilst the booster dose is likely to further increase protection in those receiving it, the dose would save more lives if given to someone in a country who has not yet had the opportunity to get any doses,” he said.

“This is one reason not to consider a general, whole-population approach to booster doses, but to focus on those who are most vulnerable – [such as] the elderly and those who are extremely clinically vulnerable – who were also vaccinated earlier and have therefore had longer for antibodies to wane.”


The world needs more vaccine supply – Oxford jab creator

It is “too simplistic” to ask whether booster jabs should be given to people in the UK over giving first doses to people in other countries, the scientist behind the Oxford vaccine says.

Prof Dame Sarah Gilbert tells the BBC News Channel: “The problem we really have is that the world needs greater vaccine supply.

“We need more doses of all of the vaccines that are currently licensed and we need more vaccines to be licensed so that we’re not talking about choices between vaccinating in one country or another country.”

She says the “good news” is that “supply is increasing”.

Asked whether over-50s and those with weakened immune systems in the UK should be offered a booster jab, Gilbert says this is a “very complex decision”, which has to take into account which vaccines are available, so we should wait for advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.



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