Biden’s COVID booster pitch, rooted in fear of deadly winter surge, likely to fail


The last thing President Biden wanted to be talking about two weeks before the midterms is COVID shots.

And yet there he was yesterday, not only urging people to get their booster shots, but rolling up his sleeves and getting his own booster.

This from the man who happily declared months ago that “the pandemic is over.” Well, not so much.

I suppose the president, who got the coronavirus himself, could have waited until after the election. But I think the greater fear at the White House is that a winter wave is coming that could bring his own management of the vaccine program under intense political fire.

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Recent data showed that about 4% of Americans – roughly 11 million people – have gotten the new booster. 

As the Washington Post points out, a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that half of Americans have heard little or nothing about the booster.

Why? Because the administration stopped talking about it. In the middle of an election cycle that increasingly favors the Republicans, not to mention dealing with Ukraine, gas prices and other challenges, there was little political percentage in bringing up a bummer of an issue.

As a big believer in the vaccine program, I found most of what Biden said yesterday to make sense. But good luck convincing many more people to get the latest booster, which is specifically aimed at the dominant Omicron variant. Given the politicization of the program, and lots of conflicting advice, especially from the partially discredited CDC, a whole lot of folks have just tuned out.

“Get vaccinated,” Biden said. “Update your COVID vaccine. It’s incredibly effective, but the truth is, not enough people are getting it. We’ve got to change that so we can all have a safe and healthy holiday season.”

Biden’s pitch was that, except for the immunocompromised, people should view such boosters like an annual flu shot. (A nasty flu season is predicted as well, and many young kids are being diagnosed with RSV, a respiratory infection that can cause serious harm.)

He also pointed out that Americans are still dying from COVID every day – the average is 350, down from about 500 – and reminded us that we’ve already lost more than 1 million of our fellow citizens.

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The president’s argument is that the new booster is widely available, free of charge. He said the administration had sent out many millions of home test kits – though he took a shot at some of “our friends in Congress” for not approving further funding – and that if you get the virus, you can get free Paxlovid to help in treatment.

But as we now know, getting vaccinated doesn’t prevent you from getting COVID. It does mean, in most cases, that your symptoms will be milder if you do get the virus.

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At the same time, when the expected winter surge hits, it could be some entirely new virus variant, making the targeting of Omicron obsolete. No one knows.

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In short, Biden is sufficiently worried about a cold-weather disaster that he was willing to muddle his midterm message with yesterday’s speech. But like so many of his previous vaccine appeals, it will likely have little impact.

The last thing President Biden wanted to be talking about two weeks before midterms is the coronavirus. Especially after he declared “the pandemic over.”

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