The Biden administration is urging Americans, particularly older people, to stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines as “the most immune evasive” variant spreads throughout most of the country, White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said on Sunday.
“We're still seeing some protection against infection but not as much,” Jha told ABC “This Week” co-anchor Martha Raddatz. “This is that immune evasive nature of this virus. So if you got your booster let's say last November or December, you don't have as much protection against this virus as you'd like.”
Officials are recommending a second booster shot, around four months after the first, for high-risk individuals such as those 50 years or and older.
But with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing just 48% of Americans have received a first booster, "One of the key messages coming out of this moment is: If you are 50 or over and you have not gotten a shot this year ... it is absolutely critical that you go out and get one now," Jha said.
Jha acknowledged the high transmissibility of the omicron subvariant spreading across most parts of the country, BA.5, and he said officials are seeing “high levels of reinfection.”
The country is reporting more than 124,000 new cases per day, an increase of roughly 16% over the previous week -- the highest daily infection average since mid-February.
“We're seeing people who are not up to date on their vaccines have a lot of breakthrough infections,” Jha said before highlighting the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments. “So this is an area of concern, but we know how to manage this.”
The daily death rate is around 400 people, which is far lower than in previous waves when the death average rose into the thousands per day.
As Americans are facing a risk of infection across much of the country, local and state officials, such as those in L.A. County, are discussing plans to reinstate mask mandates. "Should other states look at this?" Raddatz asked Jha.
“Local jurisdictions -- cities, counties, states -- should make decisions about mask mandates because communities are different and their patterns of transmission are different,” he said. “The CDC recommendation is that when you're in a high zone, that sort of orange zone, as L.A. County is, people wearing masks indoors is really important and it really will make a difference.”
Jha said the administration has been implementing widely available testing, encouraging people to get vaccinated, and he also urged people to wear masks when at risk, even though there may not be a mandate in place.
Raddatz pressed Jha on how Americans can continue to stay safe in crowded areas where masks aren't widely worn.
“The public health science is very clear: If you're in a crowded indoor space, especially if it's poorly ventilated, wearing a mask reduces your risk of infection and reduces your risk of spreading it to others," Jha said. "So we've got to continue to encourage people to do that.”
Jha also noted that rising cases show “we’re still in the middle of this pandemic” but assured, “We're in a way better place than we were a year and a half ago.”
“But we still have work to do," he said. "We've got to stay on top of this virus. We've got to keep building new generations of vaccines. We've got to make sure we're we have adequate treatments.”