US health officials say 4.4 million Americans have rolled up their sleeves for the COVID-19 reminder update. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the tally Thursday as public health experts lamented President Joe Biden’s recent remark that “the pandemic is over.”
The White House said more than 5 million people had received the new boosters by its own estimate which takes into account notification delays in states.
Health experts said it was too early to predict whether demand would match the 171 million doses of the new boosters ordered by the United States for the fall.
“No one would go and look at our flu shot intake at this point and be like, ‘Oh, what a disaster,'” said Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “If we start to see a big increase in cases, I think we are going to see a lot of people getting the (new COVID vaccine).”
A temporary shortage of the Moderna vaccine has prompted some pharmacies to cancel appointments while encouraging people to postpone a Pfizer vaccine. The issue was expected to resolve as government regulators completed an inspection and approved batches of vaccine doses for distribution.
“I expect that to pick up again in the coming weeks,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha. “We thought of and talked about this as an annual vaccine like the flu shot. The flu vaccine season resumes in late September and early October. We are just beginning our education campaign. So we expect to see, despite it being a great start, we actually expect it to get stronger.
Some Americans considering getting the vaccine, designed to target the most common omicron strains, said they were waiting because they had recently had COVID-19 or another booster. They are following public health advice to wait several months to take full advantage of their existing virus antibodies.
Others schedule shots closer to holiday gatherings and the winter months when respiratory viruses spread more easily.
Retired hospital chaplain Jeanie Murphy, 69, of Shawnee, Kansas, plans to get the new recall within weeks after undergoing minor knee surgery. Interest is high among her neighbors from what she sees on the Nextdoor app.
“There’s quite a bit of discussion between people who are willing to go on dates,” Murphy said. “I found that encouraging. For every opponent, there’s going to be 10 or 12 people running up and saying, ‘You’re crazy. You just need to go get shot.
Biden later acknowledged criticism of his remark about the end of the pandemic and clarified that the pandemic was “not where it was.” The initial comment didn’t bother Murphy. She believes the disease has entered a stable state when “we get COVID shots in the fall the same way we get flu shots.”
Experts hope she’s right, but are waiting to see what infection levels winter brings. The summer ebb in the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths could be followed by a further increase, Dowdy said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, asked Thursday by a panel of biodefense experts about what keeps him up at night, noted that half of vaccinated Americans have never received an initial booster dose.
“We have a vulnerability in our population that will continue to place us in a mode of potential disruption to our social order,” Fauci said. “I think we have to do better as a nation.”
Some Americans who received the new vaccines said they were excited about the idea of targeting the vaccine to the variants that are currently circulating.
“Give me all the science you can,” said Jeff Westling, 30, a Washington, DC attorney, who received the new booster and a flu shot Tuesday, one in each arm. He participates in the combat sport jujitsu, so he wants to protect himself from infections that may occur during close contact. “I have no problem trusting people whose job it is to review the evidence.”
Meanwhile, Biden’s statement in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday echoed on social media.
“We still have a problem with COVID. We are still working on it a lot. But the pandemic is over,” Biden said while browsing 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.
On Facebook on Wednesday, when a Kansas health department posted where residents could find the new booster shots, the first responder sarcastically remarked:
“But Biden says the pandemic is over.”
The president’s statement, despite his attempts at clarification, adds to public confusion, said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington.
“People don’t know when is the right time to get boosted. ‘Am I eligible?’ People often don’t know what the right choice is for them, even where to look for that information,” Michaud said.
“Anytime you have mixed messages, it hurts the public health effort,” Michaud said. “Having the mixed messages of the president’s remarks makes this job even more difficult.”
University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi said he fears the president’s statement has taken on a life of its own and could stall prevention efforts.
“This sound phrase has been around for a while now, and it’s going to spread like wildfire. And it’s going to feel like, ‘Oh, we don’t have to do anything anymore,’” Salemi said.
“If we’re happy with the fact that 400 or 500 people are dying every day from COVID, there’s a problem with that,” Salemi said. “We can absolutely do better because most, if not all, of these deaths are absolutely preventable with the tools we have.”
New York photographer Vivienne Gucwa, 44, received the new booster on Monday. She had COVID twice, once before vaccines became available and another in May. She was vaccinated with two injections of Moderna, but never received the original boosters.
“When I saw that the new booster was able to tackle the omicron variant, I thought, ‘I’m doing this,'” Gucwa said.
“I don’t want to deal with omicron anymore. I was a bit pleased to see that the boosters were updated.
AP medical editor Lauran Neergaard and AP White House correspondent Zeke Miller contributed. ___
The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.