WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration is launching a renewed push for COVID-19 booster shots for those eligible, pointing to the enhanced protections they offer against severe illness as the highly transmissible BA.5 variant spreads across the country.
The initiatives include direct outreach to high-risk groups, especially seniors, encouraging them to get “up to date” on their vaccinations, with phone calls, emails and new public service announcements.
All Americans age 5 and over should get a booster five months after their initial primary series, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also says those age 50 and over — or those who are immunocompromised — should get a second booster four months after their first. According to CDC, tens of millions of eligible Americans haven’t received their first booster, and of those over 50 who got their first booster, only about 30% have received their second.
CDC has released a “booster calculator” to help people determine when to get a booster shot.
Biden, who received his second booster shot in March, tested positive for the virus last week and recovered after experiencing mild symptoms for five days.
“Given the rise of the Omicron BA.5 variant, it is essential that Americans stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations — with booster shots — to achieve the highest level of protection possible,” the White House said. COVID-19 is killing about 366 people in the U.S. each day, the vast majority of whom are not up-to-date on their vaccinations. The administration says those deaths are largely preventable.
In May, according to the CDC, prior to the dominance of the BA.5 variant in the U.S., people over 50 with only a single booster shot were four times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those with two or more booster doses.
“Currently, many Americans are under-vaccinated, meaning they are not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said earlier this month. “Staying up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines provides the best protection against severe outcomes.”
As part of the new booster push, the White House says pharmacies in the federal pharmacy program will step up outreach to those eligible for another booster dose. It says Walgreens will make more than 600,000 phone calls, and Rite Aid will send nearly 9 million emails to people encouraging them to get shots.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will also reach out to 600 nursing homes that have reported booster uptake rates under 80% to offer additional federal support, including on-site clinics and sending medical providers and infectious disease experts to educate people about the benefits of the shots. CMS will also email booster reminders to the 16 million people who receive their Medicare emails and added a booster reminder message to its 1-800-MEDICARE call-in line.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will also continue to run PSAs encouraging boosters during commercial breaks on shows with significant viewership among seniors, like “NCIS Hawaii,” “Good Morning America,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “48 Hours.”