Biden’s Covid winter plan relies on vaccines, boosters, testing and treatment – .

Biden’s Covid winter plan relies on vaccines, boosters, testing and treatment – .

Experts were already a little worried about a new winter wave of Covid-19. Now, the omicron variant has amplified those concerns, although we still don’t know how much it will alter the course of the pandemic.

The Biden administration is trying to get ahead of the threat, detailing a new plan to speed up vaccinations, increase testing, make treatments widely available and deploy teams of public health experts to any hot spots that will emerge in the coming months. .

Taken together, the plan reads like the consensus you would likely find if you asked a few hundred public health experts what we should be doing; in fact, some experts are upset that some of these things haven’t already been done. Even so, a few provisions – such as the promise of insurance reimbursement for tests rather than providing them for free – raise eyebrows.

But overall, experts seem to think the plan hits the mark. The real question is what impact a federal government program can have at this point. Some state governments resist even the most basic measures, such as masks in schools; 16% of adults said in October they definitely would not get the Covid-19 vaccine, the highest share recorded by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) in its vaccine surveys. The people sank in.

The administration knows it cannot stop Covid-19, omicron variant or otherwise. But it’s his attempt to lower the barriers for people to coexist with Covid-19: by making it easier to get a vaccine, get tested, and get drugs if you’re sick.

Biden’s Covid-19 winter plan, briefly explained

The plan announced by the Biden administration on Thursday covers the full spectrum of the federal response. It starts with booster shots.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have already revised their recommendations, urging all adults over 18 to receive an additional dose of a Covid-19 vaccine six months after their second Moderna or Pfizer / BioNTech injection (or two months after their first injection). vaccinated if they have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine). Many experts are cautiously optimistic that the boosters received now will also be protective against omicron if the variant begins to spread widely in the United States, although the protection offered by current vaccines remains to be seen.

The Biden administration is partnering with AARP on an education campaign to empower seniors and also planning Medicare awareness. While there is still debate about the value of boosters for young, healthy adults, almost all experts agree that older Americans and people with weakened immune systems should get another injection. The AARP has also pledged to coordinate carpooling programs to get people to their reminder appointments, and the White House is calling on employers to give workers paid time off to get vaccinated.

However, 30% of Americans are still not vaccinated, including many children between the ages of 5 and 12, who are currently eligible for vaccines. (Injections for children under 5 are expected to be approved early next year.) Community health centers will organize family immunization days and FEMA will set up mobile immunization clinics. Medicaid will also reimburse physicians who discuss childhood immunizations with families.

It will be an uphill battle: According to the October KFF survey, 30 percent of parents say they “definitely won’t” get their child vaccinated, and 33 percent plan to wait and see. And many adults who are currently unvaccinated insist that they will never get the vaccine.

Testing remains essential in tracking and stemming the spread of the virus, allowing people to know if they need to self-isolate or see a doctor. The Biden administration plans to issue new regulations to allow patients to claim reimbursement from their health insurer if they purchase an over-the-counter test; they also plan to distribute more tests for free to community health centers and other providers, including pharmacies.

Another element of the plan is ‘strike’ teams that can be deployed to support overburdened hospitals due to understaffing, to provide monoclonal antibody treatments in high-spread areas, and disease investigators to help. help track the virus.

There are also stricter rules for international travelers, requiring a negative Covid-19 test the day before boarding a plane. And as part of the plan, the federal government will take responsibility for distributing new antiviral drugs if and when they are cleared by the FDA.

It’s a fairly comprehensive plan, although experts still see some flaws.

“What other partners could they employ besides AARP to reach out to other people below retirement age? Tara Smith, professor of public health at Kent State University, told me. “I like this partnership and the things they do there, but we need it for other age groups as well. I love their family vaccination clinics, but why didn’t it start in January? “

Should the tests be free?

Part of the plan, however, has come under scrutiny: it calls on patients to seek reimbursement from their health insurer if they purchase an over-the-counter test. Some people are currently being billed for Covid-19 tests, which could discourage them from taking a test at all; and expanded insurance coverage could help alleviate this problem. But there will likely always be a roadblock between buying the test yourself and getting your money back.

It has been well documented in the American health care system that even small financial obligations can have a huge effect on people’s stocks. The so-called “shoebox effect” – when people who are asked to submit refunds themselves never end up doing so because it’s a problem – could also be triggered.

“The insurance reimbursement for home tests will increase access and mean more people will use the tests, but it’s not a panacea,” Larry Levitt, executive vice president of Kaiser, told me. Family Foundation. “Having to pay up front will put some people off, and the hassle of having to claim reimbursement from your insurer will mean that many receipts will end up sitting in shoeboxes. “

Why does the federal government not just buy hundreds of millions of tests and distribute them? It is a question of funding. Even 500 million rapid home tests would barely be enough for one for every person in the United States. Abbott’s rapid test kits currently retail for $ 24 for two tests from CVS.

This could all add up quickly, and while we can debate whether the government should buy and distribute the tests anyway, that money would likely require creative accounting from federal agencies or new approved funding. by Congress. From a government perspective, asking patients to submit their bills directly to the insurer is certainly easier. But it is more difficult for the patient.

Nor does the U.S. government generally pay, for all of its citizens, the type of routine medical services that Covid-19 testing is likely to become, although most other wealthy countries do in one way or another. . A more conventional US market is expected to emerge, with insurers covering Covid-19 tests as they do other routine tests.

“It’s our fragmented health care system at work,” Levitt said.

The Biden plan looks like a path from an epidemic to a new normal

The plan provides a sort of manual on how we start living with Covid-19. Because eradication is out of the question, experts are considering how to reduce the risk and damage as much as possible, while allowing life to return to normal as much as possible.

“Because Covid-19 is becoming an endemic infection, it’s very important to teach people how to calculate risk with a daily threat,” Amesh Adalja, senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security told me. “To that end, home testing, antivirals, monoclonal antibodies, and strengthening in high-risk people are really important. “

No one wants to go back to lockdown, and in the United States there isn’t the political will or the public buy-in to do it anyway. The Biden administration is trying to create a plan while facing a big dilemma: Millions of people are still vulnerable to the virus – and that number could increase depending on how effective omicron is in overcoming prior immunity, it said. which we don’t know – but many of them have no interest in getting the vaccine or even getting tested.

“A lot of people have just finished. They won’t have any boosters, at least for now, ”Smith said. “They won’t wear masks unless there is a serious mandate. They certainly won’t buy tests.

The federal government has already encountered some of its power limits: The Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for large employers is blocked in court. The threat of a warrant seems to have motivated many companies to demand vaccines and many people to obtain them; research shows warrants could be effective, and new vaccinations increased after the White House finalized its regulations. Sometimes sending the signal can be the best thing to do after a concrete policy.

So they proposed this approach at the top. Boosters and tests for those who want it. For those who do end up getting sick, we have more treatment options than ever before, with new antivirals expected to hit the market every day, and Biden’s winter plan includes steps to get the drugs out. in the country.

A new normal is not a world without Covid-19, but a world we can live with. Nature itself will have something to say about it, as omicron reminds us. But that’s what the Biden administration says it is doing to prepare.


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