Biden has another chance to bring the pandemic under control

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The Biden White House has at times been guilty of mixed messages, and an avalanche of comments from senior health officials has at times been difficult for ordinary citizens to understand – and in stark contrast to the administration’s strong departure to take the lead. crisis control.

But another potentially defining moment is at hand in the 19-month national nightmare, as immunity begins to wane for some of the fully vaccinated and regulators approve booster shots for some Americans who promise to save. lives and keep Covid-19 under control. And millions of parents, exhausted from the task of protecting young children, desperately await news of when vaccines will be approved, keeping schools open and avoiding fears that Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas will be wasted again.
There was good news on Thursday. A panel of vaccine advisers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended booster shots for those who received the single-dose injection of Johnson & Johnson. It also recommended emergency use authorization for follow-up vaccinations for people over 65 or with medical conditions that put them at risk of severe Covid-19 and for people over 18 who live or work in high risk environments and have already received both doses. Modernist regime. These guidelines correspond to recommendations already given to the same category of Americans who have received Pfizer injections.

How President Joe Biden and his team handle the two deployments will be critical.

Vaccine authorizations are above all a medical concern. And solid science requires unbiased and methodical testing and evaluation of new vaccines – a factor that can lead to public impatience. But given the implications of this moment for the nation, they also represent a massive test of governance, delivery and public relations for Biden’s White House.

At a CNN town hall in Baltimore on Thursday evening, the president said he understood the trauma people are facing after months of battling the crisis. In addition to some of the structural problems with the pandemic in the economy, he said some people were just ‘down’ and wondering if they wanted to ‘get back into the game’.

“I’m asked, ‘What will Christmas be like? And Thanksgiving? Are you going to be okay? I mean, what’s going to happen? Will I be able to buy some presents for my children. ? ‘ There is a lot of anxiety in people. “

One of the keys to alleviating this anxiety will be the success of the next expansion of booster shots – and children’s vaccines that will give parents some peace of mind.

Failure at this point to offer clear messages to the public about the recalls could confuse people wondering if they are eligible, potentially reducing the fully protected population if people don’t get them. But it could also give new life to a virus that has shown a strange ability to exploit public crisis fatigue and political divisions.

For Biden, who was elected more than anything to end the pandemic, it is a difficult challenge that will test his reputation for competence, eroded by difficult political months that have seen a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and months of feuds between Democrats struggling to use their slim tenure for power in Washington. But it’s also a political imperative for Biden to appear to regain control, as the spike in illness and death this summer has dampened economic recovery and triggered a fall in his political stance. Any sign of a botched rollout or conflicting vaccine guidance will also play into the hands of conspiracy theorists and conservative media propagandists who, this week alone, exploited the death of Colin Powell to inflate vaccine misinformation.

A CNN / SSRS poll last month recorded a 10-point drop in public confidence in the president’s handling of the pandemic – to 56%.

Clear up the confusion

The issues raised by vaccines, boosters, and protecting young Americans may seem distinct and easy to understand to medical professionals and public health officials. But the news blitz, the debate over various vaccines and booster shots can be confusing for many Americans, especially in a media environment polluted with misinformation about the virus that has already killed 700,000 citizens and the life-saving doses that fight it.

The majority of pro-vaccine Americans receive less media attention than those opposed to vaccines and masks and supporters who see an angle for using the pandemic to advance their political and cultural causes. But questions and concerns about boosters have spilled over into workplaces, families and communities for weeks and clear answers have often been elusive.

More people are getting reminders that the new Covid-19 vaccines.  And others may soon become eligible for an extra shot

The CDC’s rulings are a good sign, but also make it even more important for the administration to deliver clear direction to the country. In recent weeks, multiple vaccine approval hearings by regulators, comments from government health officials, scientific reports and encouraging but unspecific statements about long-awaited vaccinations for children have at times caused confusion. The White House offered an in-depth briefing this week on vaccines for children under 11. The goal, officials said, was to show that a safety plan was in place to vaccinate as many children as soon as regulatory approval of the dose is granted. The briefings also risked confusion because without this authority, parents still cannot go out and order vaccines for their young families. While many vaccinated Americans have restored some semblance of normalcy – returning to restaurants, athletic arenas and movie theaters – many families, fearing the possibility of infection for toddlers, still live deeply limited lives.

Biden vowed Thursday night that children’s vaccines would be approved in “weeks, not months and months,” but stressed he was not putting pressure on anyone and that science would dictate the timing.

The president had hoped that the pandemic would now be behind him. And he used the July 4 vacation to tell Americans the worst was over, even though at the time the Delta variant was already taking hold in the United States and experts were concerned about the summer surge that was coming. ‘is then materialized. While his declaration of partial victory was premature, the president’s efforts have also been hampered by the politicization of the pandemic. In states ruled by Republicans in particular, many citizens have refused to be vaccinated for political reasons. Resistance to masking and warrants for face coverings further created the conditions for the virus to spread.

Different vaccines and mixing and pairing

Another source of confusion has been the three different vaccines approved for use in the United States. This has sparked a debate over which Americans are already eligible for boosters and which are not. People also need to determine the pros and cons of mixing and matching vaccine brands and booster shots – an approach endorsed by Walensky on Thursday, saying eligible people could choose whatever vaccine they wanted as a booster.

Yet, finally, 15 million Americans who listened to officials tell them to get any vaccine available at the start of the crisis – and who received the one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson – now have at least one response to their questions. urgent question.

Some of the fog over vaccines is natural – no one in authority has experienced a single mass pandemic in a century. And the evolution of science may contradict earlier guidelines, as was the case with mask-wearing earlier in the crisis.

But it’s no surprise that some Americans have taken matters into their own hands, receiving boosts from the Pfizer vaccine, for example, despite currently somewhat restrictive guidelines on its use as a third dose.

Speaking ahead of the CDC’s announcement on Thursday, Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost infectious disease expert, said he believed the concerns of many Americans about boosters would be allayed in the coming days.

“There can be some confusion, but I think right now things are going to be pretty clear when people know what is available to them,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Disease. infectious, on CBS Thursday.

“The mix and match really gives people a lot of flexibility in whatever they want to choose,” he said. “And the CDC, I’m sure, will come up with pretty clear recommendations depending on what category you fall into.”

How the situation evolves may depend on a long-term assessment of the role of booster injections, which will require assessing whether the purpose of vaccines is to protect people from disease or simply to prevent serious infections and disease. death.

“We’re trying to build the plane while it’s in the air at a certain level,” Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Thursday night. “If the goal is protection against critical illness, we have really achieved that goal.”

“If the goal is to try and keep your neutralizing antibodies at a high level, which means that this will protect you not only against serious illness, but also against mild illness or asymptomatic infection, then we are talking about more boosters. frequent. “


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