White House urges Americans to get updated COVID-19 vaccine booster shot amid fears of winter holiday spike

“We as Black people remain at risk,” Dr. Melissa Clarke told theGrio, “especially those of us over 50 and/or with underlying health conditions like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and cancer.”

As the nation enters the winter season, the Biden-Harris administration is urging Americans to get their shot of the updated COVID-19 booster vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech. Biden, leading by example, got his shot in front of cameras on Tuesday in an attempt to encourage the public to do the same amid concerns that the United States could see an uptick in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations as people head indoors this winter.

“It’s incredibly effective. But the truth is, not enough people are getting it,” said the president before getting his shot to the arm. “We’ve got to change that so we can all have a safe and healthy holiday season.” He added, “as a country, we have a choice to make.”

U.S. President Joe Biden receives his updated COVID-19 booster in the South Court Auditorium at the White House campus on October 25, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
U.S. President Joe Biden receives his updated COVID-19 booster in the South Court Auditorium at the White House campus on October 25, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Looking at the COVID infection numbers of the past two winters, Biden questioned, “Can we repeat what happened in the past winters — more infections, more hospitalizations, more loved ones getting sick, even dying from the virus? Or can we have a much better winter if we use all — all — the tools we have available to us now?”

Most Americas are eligible for the updated booster shot. The CDC and the FDA have cleared children as young as 5 to be boosted with the updated Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine shot.

That clearance comes as the White House warned that recent history shows that over the past two winters, the number of COVID-19 infections has spiked. The concern is a very real one after Biden previously declared the pandemic was over but also warned that COVID is still a persistent public health issue.

Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the coordinator for the White House coronavirus response team, spoke to the press last week from the briefing room podium. He cautioned that 200 to 300 people still die daily from COVID-19 and advised the public to get booster shots to head off another spike of infections, hospitalizations, and, worse, deaths.

The ramifications of the pandemic have extended beyond health matters and have reached nearly every aspect of American life. Notably, the impact has been devastating to the nation’s education system. Last week, the National Assessment of Educational Progress released its annual report card that found that test scores for students in reading and math saw notable declines since the pandemic.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cordona, in an interview with theGrio, acknowledged that, overall, there had been major setbacks in classroom learning. As we enter the winter months of the 2022-2023 school year, Cordona said that a lot of planning and federal dollars went into combating the negative impact of COVID in schoolhouses across the nation.

Cardona told theGrio, “We have levels of mitigation that we can employ if the levels get high.”

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, April 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, April 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

The secretary said schools are ready for the winter, partly due to the funding from the American Rescue Plan, where “we saw about 28% of the funds were being used to improve ventilation and air quality systems.” He added, “We expect that that’s going to have an impact on air quality to make sure that the school environment is safe for students and they’re breathing.”

However, Dr. Melissa Clarke, a population health expert and steering committee member of the Black Coalition Against COVID, told theGrio, “Much of those dollars for upgraded ventilation systems have yet to be used” and urged community members to “lobby your local school board to ensure the ventilation is upgraded.”

The White House did not immediately respond to theGrio’s request for comment on the status of ventilation in classrooms across the country.

Clarke, who continues to wear a mask indoors, said what is successful at curbing infection numbers is a “return to masking indoors, even if not required. She added, “especially if there are vulnerable people in your family; and get boosted if 5 years and older.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jah said the White House remains concerned for those who are in confined quarters with other people, as well as those who have underlying health issues and are at higher risk. One community that remains disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 is Black America.

“We as Black people remain at risk,” said Dr. Clarke, “especially those of us over 50 and/or with underlying health conditions like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and cancer (which we have at higher rates).”

She warned that, in addition to the initial impact of the virus, “we also know that everyone, regardless of health status and age, can develop long COVID. There are over 4 million people out of work now as a result.”

Clarke continued, “Getting a COVID booster and masking and testing prior to gathering indoors can cut down on your risk. Now is a great time to get a booster … prior to gathering for the holidays with friends and family.”

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