President Joe Biden's administration is launching a renewed push for COVID-19 booster shots for those eligible, pointing to the enhanced protections they offer against severe illness as the highly transmissible BA.5 variant spreads across the country.
The initiatives include direct outreach to high-risk groups, especially seniors, encouraging them to get "up to date" on their vaccinations, with phone calls, emails and new public service announcements.
Americans ages 5 and older should all get boosters five months after their initial primary series, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also says those age 50 and older, or those who are immunocompromised, should get their second boosters four months after their first. According to the CDC, tens of millions of eligible Americans haven't received their first boosters, and only 30% of those who have received their first boosters have also received their second.
The CDC has released a "booster calculator" to help people determine when to get a booster shot.
Biden, who received his second booster shot in March, tested positive for the virus last week and recovered after experiencing mild symptoms for five days.
"Given the rise of the Omicron BA.5 variant, it is essential that Americans stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations — with booster shots — to achieve the highest level of protection possible," the White House said. COVID-19 is killing about 366 people in the U.S. each day, the vast majority of whom are not up to date on their vaccinations. The administration says those deaths are largely preventable.
In May, according to the CDC, prior to the dominance of the BA.5 variant in the U.S., people over 50 who had received only their first booster shots were four times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those with two or more booster doses.
"Currently, many Americans are undervaccinated, meaning they are not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said this month. "Staying up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines provides the best protection against severe outcomes."
As part of the new booster push, the White House says pharmacies in the federal pharmacy program will step up outreach to those eligible for second booster doses. It says Walgreens will make more than 600,000 phone calls, and Rite Aid will send nearly 9 million emails to people encouraging them to get shots.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will also reach out to 600 nursing homes that have reported booster uptake rates under 80% to offer additional federal support, including setting up on-site clinics and sending medical providers and infectious disease experts to educate people about the benefits of the shots. CMS will also email booster reminders to the 16 million people who receive their Medicare emails and added a booster reminder message to its 1-800-MEDICARE call-in line.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will also continue to run public service announcements encouraging boosters during commercial breaks on shows with significant viewership among seniors.