Biden announces additional actions to defend Americans from Omicron Variants and Delta as we battle COVID-19 this winter

Americans are being given new protections against Omicron Variants and Delta. They also need to keep schools open, businesses and help quickly respond to emergencies.

As the United States enters winter, President Biden will announce additional actions against COVID-19.

The United States is well-equipped to handle the COVID-19 challenge and has already made significant progress in the fight against this virus. The public health tools that we have are available to us to combat this virus, without having to close down schools or businesses. The President today will announce measures to protect Americans as well as fight Omicron/Delta variants. While our economy continues to grow, this is a crucial time.

The plan also includes:

All adults can use boosters

Vaccinations for Kids to Keep Our Schools Open

American Expands Free at-Home Testing

For safe international travel, stronger public health protocols

Protecting Our Economy Through Workplaces

Quick Response Teams Help to Battle Rising Cases

Providers of treatment pills to help prevent hospitalizations or death

Continued commitment to global vaccination efforts

How to Prepare for Every Scenario

After the World Health Organization (WHO), designated the Omicron variant as Variant of Concern last week, President Obama took immediate measures to limit travel to the worst affected countries to allow the U.S. to study the variant further and plan accordingly. The Omicron variant can be fought with more power than the previous versions, such as Delta. Nearly 60% of Americans are fully immunized. All adults are eligible for booster shots, while children 5 years and older can get a vaccine. American children are currently the most vaccinated in the world. Millions have been vaccinated. The Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing other antiviral treatment options for people who get sick.

Today’s actions will ensure we are using these tools as effectively as possible to protect the American people against this variant and to continue to battle the Delta variant during the winter months when viruses tend to thrive. These actions will ensure that our economy continues to grow and protect Americans from COVID-19.

The following are the actions that President Biden will be announcing today:

1. For all adults, boosters:Biden will be announcing new steps that ensure nearly 100,000,000 eligible Americans get their booster shots as quickly as possible. Boosters are becoming more crucial as we confront the Omicron variant. Boosters can increase your immunity so that you are more protected against new viruses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), issued revised guidance this week that recommends every adult receive a booster. All adults who completed a primary vaccination series with an mRNA vaccine at least six months ago and those who received a Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago are eligible for a booster. Over 80,000 places across the country have been made available by The Biden Administration for free booster shots. More than 41 million Americans, half of whom are seniors, have had booster shots. Additional steps will be announced by the President to support this effort.

• Expanding pharmacie availability to December, and reaching out all eligible customers for their boosterThe largest federal pharmacy partnerships will continue to be available to assist with the increasing demand. To encourage people to order booster shots, pharmacy partners have launched broad-based outreach campaigns. They are also sending out millions of text, phone calls and emails to customers who are eligible with details on how they can schedule appointments or come in for the shot. Pharmacy partners will also continue to provide call centre services for members of the general public in multiple languages. He will announce, as well, that the President of the Pharmacy Program will keep enhancing access so adults can still get their booster shots from trusted and convenient pharmacies close to them. More than half of all COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States are now being given at local pharmacies. To meet local needs, federal pharmacy partners will expand access and increase capacity in their networks. To ensure equal access to boosters, they will offer vaccinations during convenient times (evenings, weekends) so that everyone can receive the vaccine at the time and place that suits them best.

A new campaign was launched to promote boosters among adults, with an emphasis on senior citizens.To ensure that all adults in America receive their boosters as soon as possible, the Department of Health and Human Services will start a public education campaign. The campaign will be especially targeted at seniors with the greatest vulnerability, such as seniors living in communities of color or seniors from low-income communities. Paid advertising will be used across many channels. It will also include engagement with community organisations, stakeholder outreach, as well as earned media campaigns.

AARP is collaborating on an education campaign with us that aims to increase the number of seniors.AARP was involved in a strong education campaign around COVID-19, and primary vaccines during the pandemic. As we work to boost seniors’ health, AARP and the Administration will leverage these successes.

– Town hallsIn order to reach thousands more seniors in the future, the Administration is participating in AARP sponsored tele-townhalls. This will educate and inform older Americans about boosters.

Booster Shots for RidersAARP committed to delivering rides via volunteers or partnerships with other organizations in order to assist seniors getting boosted at their local clinics, pharmacies, events and churches.

Call Centre and Events:In the coming weeks, AARP will be participating in various local events across the nation and offering media interviews. In addition, the Administration has provided new training to help CDC’s National COVID-19 Vaccine Assistance hotline answer AARP members’ and all seniors’ questions about boosters or find an appointment at 1-800-232-0233.

– Reaching out to Medicare beneficiaries As part of a comprehensive plan to get older adults the extra protection they need through a booster, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is launching an education and outreach initiative to get Medicare beneficiaries boosted. The CMS Administrator will send a note to all Medicare beneficiaries, encouraging them to boost their health and letting them know how they can access booster shots in their area. This notice is being sent to all Medicare beneficiaries for the first time since 2004. CMS will send out emails and add messages to 1-800-MEDICARE. They also incorporate messaging in advertising campaigns that are highly targeted at high-risk groups with low booster uptake.

– Calling on employers to follow the federal government’s lead and provide paid time off to their employees to get boosted:Federal employees are currently entitled to paid time off for booster shots. The President calls on all employers across the nation to eliminate any barriers to vaccine access. He will also call upon them to offer the same paid time to their employees, including time off to pay for booster shots or first-, second, and/or alternate shots. One should not have to make a choice between getting a pay check or the extra protection offered by booster shots and child vaccinations. About one third of employees report that they don’t get paid for vaccines. Thirty-five percent are concerned about the time it will take to get their child immunized or to care for them in case of side effects. These concerns have become more urgent in the context of our pandemic response. In fact, earlier this year 64 percent of Hispanic/Latino adult unvaccinated adults, and 55 percent unvaccinated Black adult reported being concerned about having to miss work in order to get their vaccines.

2. We need to protect our children and keep schools open with vaccinesNew actions will be announced by the President to ensure that more children aged 5 years and over are vaccinated, and keep schools open. The President was inaugurated in a country where more than half of all schools had closed since the beginning. Today, 99% of the schools are now open for students. Today’s announcements by the President will make sure that this remains true. We now have a new tool to combat the Omicron variant: vaccines that are available for children aged 5-11. In this age category, the United States is leading the way in vaccinations. Over 4,000,000 5-to-11-year-olds have been vaccinated and over 15 million teens. Vaccinating children helps to protect them, keep schools open and protects their families. The Biden Administration has made it easy for parents to get their kids vaccinated with over 35,000 sites that parents know and trust, including pharmacies, pediatricians’ offices, children’s hospitals and school-based clinics. New actions will be announced by the President to help kids get vaccinated, and schools remain open.

In one location, hundreds of family vaccination clinics can be opened to ensure that everyone is vaccinated.He will also announce an initiative to open hundreds of family vaccine clinics in the United States. Together, these clinics will offer vaccinations for the whole family – with first shots for parents, teens, and kids, and boosters for those eligible. This model builds on the Administration’s ongoing efforts – in coordination with states, localities, providers and community leaders – to meet people where they are and make vaccinations accessible and convenient in communities across the country. HRSA will launch Family Vaccination Days – with hundreds of community health centers across the country hosting family vaccination clinics throughout December. People of color receive more than two-thirds of the shots administered at community health centres. FEMA will launch Family Mobile Vaccination Clinics, deploying sites, staff, and support to states across the country that need help – beginning with its first deployments to Washington and New Mexico. States and localities will pioneer this model nationwide – with full federal funding and support, and receive a new playbook to provide all partners with the information they need to stand up these sites and increase equitable access to vaccination. And, at thousands of pharmacies nationwide, federal pharmacy partners – including CVS and Rite Aid – will make available family-based scheduling over the coming months so that parents have a one-stop-shop to get their family their vaccination appointments all at once.

– Medicaid should be required to cover the cost of health care provider visits to family members to get their children vaccinated.To increase COVID-19 vaccines and to center equity in COVID-19 vaccines, it is important that we meet our most vulnerable and at-risk communities and provide them with reliable information. To help parents get their questions answered and make informed decisions about COVID-19 vaccination for their children, all Medicaid programs will pay health care providers to talk to parents about the importance of kids’ vaccination. Medicaid covers COVID-19 vaccination counseling for the majority of children and teens up to the age of 21. This is in addition to 100% federal funding during a public health emergency or the next year. Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program provide health insurance coverage to over 40 percent of all children in the United States and are a significant source of coverage for Black and brown children. Today’s action will help expand access to individualized medical advice in all of our communities and give families the support they need to engage with trusted community providers.

Revision of school COVID-19 prevention strategies to prevent schools or classrooms from being closed if there are positive circumstances. Thanks to efforts from the Biden Administration, 99 percent of schools are now open for full-time in-person learning – up from 46 percent at the beginning of the Administration. This progress has been crucial to making sure all students can safely be back where they belong – learning alongside their peers – and to help them accelerate through any learning loss they may have experienced in the last year and a half. School can be kept open by using layered prevention strategies. With the guidance and tools provided by the Administration, schools shouldn’t have to close because of COVID-19. Schools can be kept open by following these steps:

CDC releases findings regarding school quarantine and testing policy:Contacts who have not been fully vaccinated today should be referred to COVID-19 testing. They can also quarantine their homes for up 14 days. While it is crucial to take proper measures to contain spread of the virus following COVID-19 exposure, this period of quarantine can significantly interrupt student’s learning, and make it challenging for parents to work. States and districts around the country have been pioneering alternative approaches to quarantine, including “test to stay” policies – where exposed students remain in school, wear masks, and test repeatedly in the days following exposure to identify and contain infection. The CDC has studied different methods of testing and quarantine. They also looked at science data to see how these approaches might keep schools safe. These findings will be released by the CDC in the coming weeks.

– The Administration will issue a new “Safe School Checklist” to give schools a clear game plan for how to get as many of their staff and students vaccinated as possible: The best way to avoid outbreaks in schools is to stop transmission before it happens – and the best tool we have to stop transmission and keep schools open is vaccinating everyone who is eligible. COVID-19 is now available to all children 5 years old and older. Today, the Administration will issue a new “Safe Schools Checklist” to all K-12 schools, detailing a set of actions that every school can take to get their staff and students vaccinated – including hosting school-located vaccination clinics, hosting community-based and family vaccination clinics and events, implementing vaccination requirements for school staff, and getting eligible vaccinated school staff booster shots. This Checklist will link to resources that schools could use to create these programs and educate families about vaccination.

– To provide all resources to FDA in order to facilitate timely review of vaccine applications from children under 5 years of age: As he announced for the vaccine for children aged 5-11 years, the President will also announce his support for an independent scientific review for vaccines for infants under 5 years old. The FDA will receive all necessary resources once the data has been submitted.

3. American Expands Free at-Home Testing The President today will announce additional steps that ensure Americans have free access to at-home testing. First, the more than 150 million Americans with private insurance – who now are able to get tests covered in physician offices, pharmacies, and clinics with no cost sharing – will also be able to get at-home tests reimbursed by their insurance. At-home testing will also be available through important community locations such as rural clinics and health centers for people who are not eligible for private insurance. Since January, significant efforts have been made by the Biden administration to expand testing throughout the country. On track to triple the number of at-home rapid tests than we had in summer, Today’s actions will help Americans access the tests they need to help them stop the spread of COVID-19 to others.

Provides coverage for health plans that cover no-cost, rapid (OTC), COVID-19 testingThe Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury are releasing guidance on January 15th. This will clarify that OTC COVID-19 diagnostic test purchasers will be eligible for reimbursement through their group insurance or employer and insurance will cover the costs during a public health emergency. Current guidance will continue to apply for workplace screening. Today’s announcement follows the President’s September action directing more than $2 billion to accelerate the production of rapid tests and an additional $1 billion investment in procuring at-home tests. FDA also authorized five more over-the-counter testing during the same period. Eight tests currently exist; however, none of them were available when President Obama took office.

– Expanding the distribution of community-based free home tests by partnering with health centers or rural clinics to offer more services.In order to ensure equal access to at-home testing for underserved and uninsured communities, President Obama will increase his September commitment to provide 25 million more free community tests. This will be increased to 50 millions. Rural clinics will also be added to the program. These vital supplies will be delivered to the most vulnerable communities through partnerships with community providers.

4. International Travel Safety: Stronger public Health ProtocolsAdministration enforced stronger international travel protocols. It required that all foreigners be fully vaccinated. Biden Administration immediately restricted travel to countries within the Omicron region, where it was quickly spreading rapidly. The President will announce additional steps to strengthen the safety of international travel as we face this new threat – just as we have faced those that have come before it.

– Strengthening international pre-departure test protocols The United States will increase pre-departure testing requirements for all international traveler. They require that they test their passports within one calendar day after departure, and this applies to everyone, no matter what nationality, age, or status. Scientists continue to examine the Omicron variant and this stricter timeline for testing provides additional protection.

– The requirement that you wear a mask while traveling on planes, trains, or in public transport is extended. The Administration will continue to require masking during international or other public travel – as well as in transportation hubs such as airports or indoor bus terminals – through March 18 as we continue to battle COVID-19 this winter. To ensure that these standards are maintained, the Transportation Security Administration will continue to issue implementing orders through March 18. Fines will continue to be doubled from their initial levels for noncompliance with the masking requirements – with a minimum fine of $500 and fines of up to $3,000 for repeat offenders.

5. For businesses to remain open: Protecting work environments Today, the President will announce additional progress we’re making in protecting workers and keeping our economy growing and businesses open. The economy has created 5.6 million new jobs since President Biden was elected. New unemployment claims have dropped by 70%, while applications to start new businesses have increased 30% above pre-pandemic levels. We must slow down the spread of COVID-19 at work and in the workplaces. This will help to protect workers and keep them safe. It is important that vaccinations are required to do this. The President encourages businesses to make sure workers are safe as we move into winter.

Businesses are urged to support vaccination and testing programs.He will urge businesses to accelerate their efforts to require that all employees are vaccinated and tested every week. This is crucial due to the Omicron variation. COVID-19 should not cause a business to close down during winter. A clear plan has been provided by the Department of Labor to assist businesses in keeping workers safe while still keeping their doors open. 60 percent of business owners report that they are committed to implementing a plan to have their workers tested or vaccinated on a weekly basis. In addition, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has encouraged companies to immediately implement these preventative measures. He will encourage businesses to act now in order to safeguard workers and customers as well as the economy.

6. Quick Response Teams Helping to Battle Rising CasesThe President today will announce additional actions that will help the states combat any COVID-19 epidemics, even the Omicron variant. We deployed federal personnel in thousands to assist 27 states and territories as we tried to reduce the Delta surge over this summer and autumn. This COVID-19 Surge Respond Team mobilized to respond to critical requirements on the ground. They included personnel, technical assistance, and therapeutics. Over 2.2 million monoclonal anti-body treatments have been shipped, and we’ve deployed more than 2000 personnel. Today, President Obama will declare that the federal government is ready to assist in the face of new strains and increasing numbers during winter months.

States now have 60+ COVID winter emergency response team deployments:The President will create new emergency response teams to support state efforts in the face of rising caseloads. They include: 

     – 20+ Department of Defense Medical Response Team deployments to support clinical staffing at strained hospitals.

     – 10 National Disaster Medical System team deployments to provide clinical support at strained hospitals.

     – 20+ monoclonal antibody strike team deployments to support the administration of these lifesaving treatments.

     – 15+ CDC expert deployments to conduct outbreak investigations and provide epidemiological or technical support whenever needed.

– To strengthen our National Volunteer Emergency Medical Response Corps to Support Communities in Need:The President today announced that $20 million will be provided by the American Rescue Plan. This funding will help strengthen local health response and preparedness. The funding will help to provide more resources for the approximately 300,000 MRC public and medical health workers who have already volunteered over 2 million hours towards local COVID-19 responses. HHS will lead an effort nationwide to mobilise volunteers in COVID-affected areas, which includes retired nurses and doctors.

7. To Prevent Death and Hospitalizations, we provide treatment pillsWe are entering winter and new COVID-19 therapies may be in the works that can help to prevent death or hospitalization. As these treatments continue to be developed and reviewed, today, the President will announce that we are ensuring that if and when any new COVID-19 treatment pills have been found to meet FDA’s scientific standards, they are equitably accessible to all Americans, regardless of their income or their zip code.

– Ensure that there is enough medication and are readily available for those in most need.To ensure that we are able to provide adequate treatment for Americans in need, the Administration has taken steps to procure 13 million antiviral course doses. This number represents six times more COVID-19 hospitalizations than the total number reported for this year. In the months ahead, more treatment options may be available. The Administration will make sure that those in need, who are often most at risk, have access to potentially lifesaving therapies.

8. Continued Engagement in Global Vaccination EffortsToday the President will be reaffirming his commitment to helping vaccinate the world and calling on all countries to follow suit to stop the spread of this deadly pandemic.

– Giving 1.2 million doses of medication to the entire worldThe United States has pledged to give 1.2 billion shots to the globe. We donate three doses for every shot administered by the Biden administration in the U.S. Also, the United States is the first nation to abandon its position in the line for vaccinations. This allowed the African Union to receive up to 110 millions doses of Moderna immediately at a lower rate than the United States negotiated. We are also working together with partners to increase supply for critical ancillary items like syringes.

– Deliver more vaccines faster to the countries that are in greatest need. We pledge to send 200 million more doses over the next 100 day. To build on our donations of over 275 million doses that have been shared with 110 countries, including 94 million doses to Africa, we are pledging to deliver 200 million more doses in the next 100 days – accelerating the delivery of vaccines to countries in need. All doses of vaccine are free and come with no conditions. The U.S. is also the first country to negotiate a deal with J&J and the COVAX facility to send vaccines directly to humanitarian settings and conflict zones to vaccinate displaced people.

– Take steps to increase manufacturing in the United States and internationally, building a supply chain that can sustain itself and increasing global production of vaccines.We’re increasing the production of vaccines, expanding our supply chain, and increasing our global ability to manufacture additional vaccines. To help companies with a history of manufacturing mRNA vaccinations, we will invest further in them. Production is expected to begin by 2022.

– Turning vaccines into vaccinations:To get vaccines to the front lines, we are working closely with our country partners. We have plans that can be tailored for specific countries. With lines of effort ranging from communications campaigns to build vaccine confidence, to funding for vaccinators on the front line – the U.S. government is committed to getting people vaccinated around the world.

9. How to Prepare for Every ScenarioMedical and health experts agree that current U.S. vaccines provide some protection from the Omicron variant. Boosters can increase that protection substantially. To ensure we’re prepared for every scenario, the Administration is making preparations to allow us to react quickly to any new boosters or vaccinations that are required to combat the Omicron variant.

• Accelerating development and deployment, if necessary for Omicron variant vaccines and boostersTo ensure we have the latest vaccines and boosters available for the Omicron variant, the President will use every tool and resource at our disposal. The Administration is working closely with executives at Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for other vaccinations or boosters if needed. He will use all resources to support FDA and CDC in rapid review of new vaccines. While ensuring the strict safety review process remains intact, the President is also committed to using every resource at his disposal. This includes any COVID-19 treatment.