US health officials say 4.4 million Americans have rolled up their sleeves for an updated COVID-19 booster shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted the count Thursday as public health experts bemoaned President Joe Biden’s recent remarks that “the pandemic is over.”
The White House said more than 5 million people received new boosters by its own estimate, accounting for a reporting lag in states.
Health experts said it was too early to predict whether demand would match the 171 million doses of new boosters ordered by the US for the fall.
Dr. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health infectious disease epidemiologist. “No one is going to look at our flu shot at this point and be like, ‘Oh, what a disaster,'” David Dowdy said. “If we start to see a big increase in cases, I think we’ll see a lot of people getting the (new COVID) vaccine.”
A temporary shortage of the Moderna vaccine prompted some pharmacies to cancel appointments while encouraging people to reschedule for the Pfizer vaccine. The issue was expected to be resolved as government regulators cleared a batch of vaccine doses for inspection and distribution.
White House COVID-19 Coordinator Dr. “I hope this will increase in the coming weeks,” Ashish Jha said. “We are thinking and talking about this as an annual vaccine like the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine season begins in late September and early October. We are just starting our education campaign. So we expect that, even though this is a strong start, we actually expect this to be even stronger.”
Some Americans who plan to get the shot, designed to target the most common Omicron strain, said they are waiting because they recently had COVID-19 or another booster. They are following public health advice to wait several months to get the full benefit of their existing virus-fighting antibodies.
Others are scheduling shots closer to holiday gatherings and the winter months when respiratory viruses are more easily spread.
Gene Murphy, 69, a retired hospital chaplain from Shawnee, Kansas, plans to get a new booster in a few weeks after undergoing minor knee surgery. From what she sees on the Nextdoor app, her neighbors are increasingly interested.
“There’s been some discussion among people who are willing to make an appointment,” Murphy said. “I found it encouraging. For every protagonist there will be 10 or 12 people who jump up and say, ‘You’re crazy. You just need to go get the shot.’
Biden later acknowledged criticism of his comments about the pandemic ending, clarifying that the pandemic is “not where it was.” The initial comment didn’t bother Murphy. She believes the disease has entered a steady state when “we’ll be getting Covid shots in the fall just like we get flu shots.”
Experts hope she’s right, but are waiting to see what winter brings with infection levels. Dowdy said other spikes in the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths could occur as the summer surges.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, asked Thursday by a panel of biodefense experts what still keeps him up at night, noted that half of vaccinated Americans never received the initial booster dose.
“We have a vulnerability in our population that will continue us in a mode of potential disruption of our social order,” Fauci said. “I think we have to do better as a nation.”
Some Americans who received the new shots said they were excited by the idea of targeting the vaccine to the now circulating variants.
“Give me all the science you can,” said Jeff Westling, 30, a Washington, D.C., attorney who received a new booster and flu shot Tuesday, one in each arm. He participates in the combat sport jujitsu, so wants to protect himself from infection from close contact. “I have no problem trusting people whose job it is to look at the evidence.”
Meanwhile, Biden’s announcement in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday echoed through social media.
“We still have the problem of Covid. We are still working on it a lot. But the pandemic is over,” Biden said while walking the Detroit Auto Show. “If you notice, no one is wearing a mask. Everyone seems to be in pretty good shape. And so I think that’s changing.
As of Wednesday on Facebook, when the Kansas Department of Health posted where residents can find the new booster shots, the first commenter pointedly commented:
“But Biden says the pandemic is over.”
The president’s statement, despite his efforts to clarify it, adds to public confusion, said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington.
“People are not sure when is the right time to get a boost. ‘Am I worthy?’ People are often confused about what is the right choice for them, even where to find that information,” said Michaud.
“Anytime you have mixed messages, it’s detrimental to public health efforts,” Michaud said. “Having mixed messages from the president’s remarks makes that job more difficult.”
Jason Salemi, a University of South Florida epidemiologist, said he is concerned that the president’s announcement has taken on a life of its own and could stall prevention efforts.
“That soundbite has been around for a while now, and it’s going to spread like wildfire. And that would give the impression that ‘Oh, we don’t need to do anything else,’” Salemi said.
“If we’re happy with 400 or 500 deaths a day from Covid, that’s a problem,” Salemi said. “We can absolutely do better because most of those deaths, if not all of them, are completely preventable with the tools we have.”
New York City photographer Vivienne Guqua, 44, got a new booster Monday. She had contracted Covid twice, once before the vaccine was available and again in May. She was vaccinated with two Moderna shots, but never received the original boosters.
“When I saw that the new booster was able to deal with the Omicron variant I thought, ‘I’m doing it’,” said Gukwa.
“I don’t want to deal with Omicron again. I was thrilled to see the booster update.”
AP medical writer Laurent Neergaard and AP White House correspondent Zach Miller contributed. ___
The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Science Education Division of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.