President Biden on Tuesday warned the American people that almost every COVID-related death this year will be because people have not received the updated vaccine.
“Virtually every COVID death in America is preventable,” Biden said during an afternoon press conference, standing alongside pharmacy leaders from Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid and Albertsons. “Virtually everyone, almost everyone who will die from COVID this year, will not be up-to-date on their shots.”
Biden also called on Congress to provide the billions of dollars the administration has requested to buy additional vaccines, tests and treatments.
The president’s comments come ahead of the holiday season when the weather is colder and more people are spending time indoors and contagious viruses are more likely to spread.
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Biden pointed to new variants in the US and a rise in hospitalizations in Europe and urged people to get the latest vaccine and the flu shot.
“If you get it, you’re protected. And if you don’t, you’re putting yourself and other people unnecessarily at risk,” Biden said, later adding, “Nearly every death is preventable, so get updated. Get your updated COVID shot. Now’s the time to do it, by Halloween if you can.”
A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this year found that more than 75% of COVID-19 deaths in fully vaccinated people had occurred among those with at least four comorbidities.
Biden twice tested positive for COVID-19 in July, despite being fully vaccinated and twice boosted. His physician said the president’s rare “rebound” positivity followed treatment with PAXLOVID.
Later in the press conference, Biden rolled up his sleeve and got his updated COVID-19 booster shot from a member of the White House medical unit. He had to delay getting his booster, in accordance with federal health guidance, because of his infection over the summer.
More than 20 million people, including nearly 1 in 5 older adults, have gotten the updated COVID-19 booster, the White House said. The vaccine has been reformulated to target the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of omicron, the most dominant strains in the United States.
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Three respiratory viruses are currently circulating in the US: the flu, COVID-19 and RSV, respiratory syncytial virus, said Dr. Ashish Jha, leader of the White House’s COVID-19 response.
Jha said during morning TV appearances that the combination of a flu shot and updated COVID booster will help people avoid serious illness and stay out of the hospital as they get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving and other holidays with friends and family.
RSV has been affecting children, and there is no shot available to treat it, although companies are working to develop one, he said.
“So, if people went out and got their vaccines, we could really get through this without getting into a lot of trouble,” Jha said Tuesday.
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“If you’re relying on your old vaccine from nine months ago or an infection from a year ago, that’s probably not going to be good enough and that’s one of the reasons we’re urging all Americans — but particularly older Americans, particularly seniors — to get the new updated COVID vaccine, because I do think it’s going to make a really big difference,” Jha said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.