Biden calls for COVID booster shots, home test in the fight against the omicron variant

President Joe Biden is set to launch a more urgent campaign for Americans to get COVID-19 booster shot Thursday as he unveils his winter plans for combat coronaviruses and it is omicron variant with increased availability of shots and vaccines, but without major new restrictions.

The plan includes a requirement for private insurance companies to cover the cost of COVID-19 tests at home and a tightening of testing requirements for individuals traveling into the United States, regardless of their vaccination status. But like some other nations close their borders or reintroduce lockdowns, officials said Biden would not impose any further restrictions beyond his recommendation to the Americans wear masks indoors in a public setting.

Biden said Wednesday that the upcoming strategy to be unveiled during a speech at the National Institutes of Health will fight the virus “not with shutdowns or shutdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, tests and more.”

The White House released details of Biden’s plan early Thursday, ahead of the speech.

The Biden administration has come to regard widespread use of booster shots as its most effective tool to combat COVID-19 this winter. Medical experts say boosters provide improved and more lasting protection against COVID-19, including new variants.

Much is still unknown the omicron variant, including whether it is more contagious, whether it makes people more seriously ill and whether it can thwart the vaccines.

About 100 million Americans are eligible for boosters under current U.S. policy, with more being eligible every day. Convincing those who have already been vaccinated to get another dose, officials believe, will be far easier than vaccinating the approximately 43 million adult Americans who has not received a shot despite widespread public pressure campaigns to roll up their sleeves.

And while Bidens requirements for vaccination or testing for workers of major employers has been held up by legal challenges, the president on Thursday will renew his call for companies to go ahead and impose on workers their own mandates so they can stay open without outbursts.

In an effort to encourage more people to take the booster doses, the Biden administration is stepping up direct outreach to seniors – the most vulnerable population to the virus. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will send a message to all 63 million Medicare recipients urging them to receive booster doses, the White House said. AARP will collaborate with the administration on education campaigns for seniors.

So far, about 42 million Americans, about half of them seniors, have been given a booster dose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week expanded its booster dose recommendation to cover all Americans at least 18 years of age, starting six months after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines.

The White House said the CDC was also developing new guidance for schools in an effort to reduce or eliminate current quarantine requirements for those who are not fully vaccinated and exposed to the virus. The new policies that the White House said will be released in the coming weeks may include so-called “test-to-stay” policies, where those considered close contacts can continue to go to school but wear masks. and undergo serial testing, in an effort to minimize learning losses and disruptions.

The administration’s forthcoming rule requiring private insurance companies to cover home tests is still being worked out, and many details need to be worked out, including under what criteria they will be reimbursed, officials said.

Those insured by Medicare and Medicaid would not be eligible, but the White House said as many as 150 million people with private insurance would see easier and cheaper access to home tests. The administration said it is conducting 50 million COVID-19 tests free of charge for the elderly and other vulnerable groups for collection at senior centers and community centers.

From next week, the White House said, all travelers to the United States, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, will be required to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test within one day of boarding their aircraft. It’s down from three days right now for those who have been vaccinated, in an extra precaution against the omicron variant. But the White House has shelved tougher options, such as requiring tests on arrival or requiring quarantines on arrival in the United States.

Biden is also extending its directive requiring masks on planes and other public transportation, which was set to expire in January, at least until mid-March, the White House said.

The administration also informs states that it has more than 60 teams available to help them or their municipalities deal with increases in cases and lack of public health heading into the winter, half of which aims to strengthen hospital services and 20 targeted at to support life-saving monoclonal antibody treatments.

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