There has been deep frustration inside the administration over the complicated messaging surrounding booster shots, with several officials conceding to CNN that the restrictions on who should get one and when have only spurred confusion when it was clear immunity wanes for all age groups.
With a key decision on Pfizer and BioNTech’s request to amend the emergency use authorization for their Covid-19 vaccine booster expected Friday, officials are hoping to use the opportunity to correct the messaging.
“It will be easier to communicate the urgency and availability to all populations, including the most vulnerable, by simplifying this and making everyone eligible,” one senior health official told CNN.
“Finally, they got there,” another official added.
Once the decisions are made, the message will be: If you are fully vaccinated, you still need a booster shot.
As cases of Covid surge in parts of Europe, US officials have been anxiously awaiting a similar uptick as temperatures drop in many parts of the country. Rates in the US have increased in recent days, causing fresh concern that a seasonal spike is imminent.
Some of President Joe Biden’s advisers have viewed the spike of cases in Europe as further reason to press forward with a plan to offer boosters to all adults, seeing it as getting ahead of what is likely to come in the United States.
While the prospect of a winter surge has long been included in the administration’s Covid planning, some advisers feel boosters could help mitigate the effects. While publicly the White House said it was waiting for the process to proceed to expand boosters to all adults, privately some on Biden’s team were encouraged when individual states began expanding eligibility themselves. One official said it was a misstep on the part of the advisory committee to wait this long.
The latest states to get ahead of the federal regulators were Utah and Massachusetts, following several others who determined all adults should get third shots.
“CDC speaks Latin. I can’t figure out who’s eligible, who’s not eligible. If you smoked while you were in high school, back in the 1970s, you’re eligible,” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said at a news conference on Thursday, urging all adults to get a booster if they meet the timing requirement. “I think if you haven’t been vaccinated in more than six months, now’s the time to get the booster.”
A new surge of Covid cases around the winter holidays would further disrupt a festive season already complicated by high gas prices and supply chain issues. Biden has received personal assurances from the CEOs of major shippers and box store retailers that they will be able to operate and fully stock their shelves this year. But the lingering effects of the pandemic will still be felt, from mask requirements on planes to higher prices for food to shortages of certain goods.
Biden and his team are loathe to recommend against indoor holiday gatherings for another year, mindful that Americans are growing increasingly exhausted from pandemic-related restrictions.
So, too, are Biden and his team mindful of not signaling an end to the pandemic after prematurely declaring “freedom from the virus” over the summer. A subsequent surge due to the highly contagious Delta variant caused a return of mask requirements and closures, and led many Americans to sour on how Biden was handling the crisis.
Once a bright spot in his poll numbers, more Americans now disapprove of Biden’s handling of the pandemic (49%) than approve (47%), according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week.
The downward trajectory maps closely with the period when cases began rising again over the summer after it seemed to many the pandemic had ended. And it mimics an overall political weakening for Biden, whose approval rating stands at 44%, according to a CNN poll of polls.
Biden’s political advisers believe ending the Covid pandemic — and, by extension, easing its associated economic pressures — is the most central imperative to improving the President’s standing.