The White House is urging Americans to get updated COVID-19 vaccine shots this fall specifically targeting prevalent omicron variants.
The Biden administration on Thursday released more details on its plan to make the newly approved shots — the first of annual shots it says Americans should get — easily available and free for the public.
The White House is also again calling on Congress to provide additional funding for the nation’s response to the health crisis.
President Joe Biden, who canceled his planned remarks on the updated vaccines after news broke of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, previously said the shots represent a “new phase” in the government’s response to the virus.
“As the virus continues to change, we will now be able to update our vaccines annually to target the dominant variant,” he said in a statement earlier this week. “Just like your annual flu shot, you should get it sometime between Labor Day and Halloween. It’s safe, it’s easy to get, and it’s free.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on the shots, one by Moderna and one by Pfizer-BioNtech, earlier this month after the Food and Drug Administration authorized their emergency use.
The current omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, make up the bulk of new virus cases in the U.S. The booster shots contain protein components of the subvariants to the current vaccine composition, the CDC said, helping to restore protection that’s waned since previous vaccinations.
The CDC recommends people ages 12 and older receive the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, and those 18 years or older to get the shot offered by Moderna. The shots have been authorized for use at least two months after an individual’s primary vaccine series or their most recent booster.
“For most Americans who are fully vaccinated, our nation’s health experts are recommending that you get the updated COVID vaccine once a year,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.
The administration has secured over 170 million doses of the updated COVID-19 vaccines, and plans to ship them to tens of thousands of pharmacies, health centers and other convenient locations nationwide.
According to the White House, after this first round of doses are delivered, over 90% of Americans will have a location with free shots within five miles of where they live.
To encourage those at highest risk of severe illness or disease, such as older or immunocompromised individuals, to get the new vaccines, the administration will be reaching out directly to the 16 million people subscribed for Medicare emails to share information on the newest COVID shots. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will also be providing resources to nursing homes and long-term care facilities to ensure residents and staff can get the new shots.
The White House said Thursday it will also continue to increase testing capacity and access to treatments but Jean-Pierre said that the administration is “constrained” on what it can do because of limiting funding.
The administration is seeking $22.4 billion from Congress they say is necessary to combat COVID. That funding would go toward “next-generation” research, providing treatments and boosting vaccine supply.
The request is likely to face an uphill battle on Capitol Hill, where Republicans are generally opposed to any additional emergency funding.
The White House said it will be able to stay on track with its COVID response through the fall, but will be forced to transition the procurement and distribution of vaccines, treatments and more to the commercial market if lawmakers don’t make more funding available.
“The timeline of this transition should be dictated by the state of the pandemic and by the need to ensure an orderly transition, not by the lack of funding,” the White House said.