Biden to speak on Covid as US nears new boosters, kids’ shots

President Joe Biden is set to deliver a speech Thursday about the next steps in the U.S. vaccination effort as employer mandates and booster shots support a fading campaign to get more people inoculated.

The president will highlight both increased vaccinations and a decrease in cases and hospitalizations, a White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the speech. He will also speak about efforts to keep schools open by making younger children eligible for vaccines and through plans to expand access to testing, the person said. 

U.S. cases and hospitalizations are falling after a summer surge driven by the delta variant, but experts fear a new wave driven by the holiday season beginning next month, particularly across colder parts of the country. And Biden has sparred with Republican governors who’ve blocked mandates for vaccines or masks in some states. 

Meanwhile, there are mixed signals in the U.S. vaccination campaign. The Biden administration says its push to impose employer vaccine mandates has driven a surge of shots in recent weeks, though the pace of new inoculations, excluding boosters, has slowed substantially since they were first available. About 440,000 people got a first or second shot on Wednesday, down from a pace of millions per day in the spring at the height of the effort. Including booster shots, the U.S. is administering about 800,000 doses a day.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is poised to hold hearings Thursday and Friday on booster shots, as well as whether doses can be mixed and matched. The panel will hold another hearing  Oct. 26 about opening vaccines up for kids age 5 to 11. 

All those hearings are followed by three steps — FDA review, then a meeting of the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, followed by a final CDC ruling. ACIP hearings have been set for next week, which could clear booster shots, and the week of Nov. 1, which could open the door to kids’ shots.

Mixing Covid vaccines produces as much or more antibodies as using the same shot as a booster, according to preliminary results made public this week from a U.S. government-sponsored trial. But U.S. regulators didn’t make a recommendation on whether recipients of the Johnson & Johnson Inc. Covid-19 vaccine should receive a booster, or which.

“We have the vaccine supply, and we will be ready to hit the ground running as soon as any additional boosters are authorized,” Biden’s Covid-19 response coordinator, Jeff Zients, said Wednesday.

Biden is imposing a vaccine mandate on federal workers and federal contractors — a more stringent policy than its predecessor, which offered an alternative where employees could be tested regularly. The administration is also preparing a rule that would require all companies with 100 or more employees to require vaccination or perform weekly testing.

“Every day, there’s stronger evidence that vaccination requirements are working,” Zients said.

About 77% of eligible people, and 79% of eligible adults, have received at least one shot, according to CDC data. About 66% of eligible people are fully vaccinated, while nearly 5% of that group has received a booster.

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