President Joe Biden rolled out his plan to contain the COVID-19 pandemic this winter, promising he would avoid lockdowns and mandates while joking Dr. Anthony Fauci was commander in chief.
During remarks at the National Institutes of Health, Biden warned of a possible case spike due to the colder weather and possibly more transmissible omicron variant.
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“My plan I am announcing today pulls no punches in the fight against COVID-19, and it’s a plan I think should unite us,” he said. "This is a moment we can put the divisiveness behind us — I hope."
Biden cited polling suggesting 3 in 10 people who were once adamant they would not receive a COVID vaccine "under any circumstances" had changed their mind because of the omicron variant.
"I hope that's true," he said.
Biden encouraged vaccinated people to book their COVID booster shot appointments, saying his administration would liaise with Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson about developing "contingency" jabs for the omicron variant.
"More than about 100 million are eligible for boosters but haven't gotten the booster shot yet," the president said. "Folks, if you're over the age of 18 and you got vaccinated before June the 2nd, six months has gone by. Go get your booster now."
But Biden also acknowledged the heated court battles over his public and private workforce COVID vaccine requirements, emphasizing his winter plan "does not expand or add to those mandates."
Biden's strategy includes a deal with private health insurance companies to cover at-home COVID tests starting next month. Uninsured people will have access to free tests "at thousands of convenient locations," according to Biden.
The winter plan incorporates an international component after the omicron variant was first detected in South Africa, such as compelling international travelers to take a COVID test within one day of their departure from overseas. Biden said his administration would send another 200 million vaccines abroad in the next 100 days, bringing his combined pledge to 1.25 billion shots.
Biden was briefed by NIH's director and deputy director, Drs. Francis Collins and Lawrence Tabak, respectively, prior to his COVID address. He was joined by his response team, including Fauci. Biden thanked Fauci, the country's top infectious disease specialist, at the beginning of his speech.
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“I’ve seen Dr. Fauci more than I’ve seen my wife," he said. "Who’s president? Fauci. But all kidding aside, I sincerely mean it.”