Coronavirus Update: Biden to share ‘next steps’ for COVID-19 booster program later today

All signs are pointing to COVID-19 booster shots for Americans as federal health officials and President Joe Biden prepare to speak with Americans today about what is expected to be the launch of a COVID-19 booster campaign.

The months-long debate about whether Americans who have been vaccinated will need an extra dose has been seemingly blunted by the rapid spread of the delta variant and the ensuing rise of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the U.S. over the last month or so.

Delta, which is more than twice as infectious as the original strain of the virus, is now estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make up nearly 99% of all recent cases here.

The White House’s COVID-19 Response Team is set to hold its weekly briefing today at 11 a.m. ET and Biden is expected to address Americans at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Media outlets have reported that people will likely qualify for an extra shot at least eight months after finishing the first series of COVID-19 immunizations, and the shots likely will be rolled out in phases like they were over the winter and spring.

There is no confirmed information about boosters for the general public at this time.

There are several factors at play in the booster discussion, but these are some of the most pressing questions: Do people who have been fully vaccinated actually need a boost? Is it ethical to give Americans a second or third dose when much of the world have no access to vaccines? Will Americans who have been told by federal health officials many times that boosters aren’t needed listen this time?

When the U.S. last week said it would allow people who are immunocompromised to get an extra shot, officials repeated that boosters for the general public are not needed at this time.

“We do not believe that others—elderly or non-elderly who are not immunocompromised—need a vaccine right at this moment, but this is a dynamic process and the data will be evaluated,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, told reporters last Thursday.

That said, it’s thought that immunity may be waning among the vaccinated, and that’s why we’re hearing about more breakthrough infections, though they are still considered rare.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is the most notable example this week of someone who is fully vaccinated who has tested positive for the virus.

There is no federal tally of breakthrough cases, a decision that has been criticized by some pandemic experts, but some states are publicly sharing the data they have about these infections.

As of Aug. 8, 0.3% of Californians—or 57,491 fully vaccinated people out of 21.6 million full vaccinated individuals—have tested positive for the virus. Massachusetts last week said that 0.2% people in the state—or 9,969 people out of the 4.3 million who have been fully vaccinated—have reported breakthrough infections, according to media reports. About 450 of those individuals were hospitalized, and 105 people died.

Don’t miss from WSJ: As Delta surges, COVID-19 breakthrough cases remain uncommon.

Here’s what the numbers say

The seven-day moving average is 128,347 cases per day and 553 deaths per day, as of Aug. 16, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

August has been the worst month in 2021 for new cases since February, according to USA Today, and a Reuters analysis found that there were more than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday.

About 168.9 million people in the U.S., or 50.9% of the total population, are now fully vaccinated, as of Aug. 17, and 198.7 million, or 70.1%, of those who qualify for the vaccine, have received at least one shot.

Here’s what else you need to know about COVID-19

• The U.S. extended the transit-related mask mandate until Jan. 18, which means passengers and employees will still need to wear masks on planes and other forms of public transportation until then. (Separately, Los Angeles County is now requiring masks at large outdoor events, the Los Angeles Times reports.)

• COVID-19 vaccination rates are ticking up in Latin America, where it’s more common for people to trust vaccines, according to The Wall Street Journal. In Chile and Uruguay, about two-thirds of the population in both countries are fully vaccinated.

• Roche Holding AG

said Actemra, its rheumatoid arthritis drug that recently received authorization in the U.S. as a COVID-19 treatment for hospitalized patients, is in short supply and will be so for weeks or months. The drug is being used around worldwide; however, demand for Actemra in the U.S. is “well beyond 400% of pre-COVID levels over the last two weeks alone,” the drug maker said Monday. Actemra, which is an IL-6 inhibitor, is one of the few therapies that has demonstrated its value as a COVID-19 treatment for the severely ill.

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