Biden promises half a billion at-home tests, more pop-up clinics, and more as cases rise

President Biden announced steps the White House is taking to bolster the U.S. fight against Covid-19, including providing 500 million free at-home test kits, increasing hospital support, and getting more vaccines in arms.

Earlier this month, the White House unveiled plans to ramp up it’s Covid-19 response efforts in an effort to blunt the impact of the latest SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern, the Omicron variant. That plan, which was announced on Dec. 2, involved allowing for individuals to seek reimbursement for over-the-counter rapid tests, ramping up vaccination booster programs, and increasing vaccination rates among school-age kids.

Now, as Omicron begins to eclipse other Covid-19 variants in the U.S. and around the globe, the White House is stepping up its game.

The President announced that the Administration will take the following actions to fight Covid-19:

  • Increase support for hospitals: The White House is mobilizing an additional 1,000 U.S. troops to deploy to hospitals burdened by Covid-19 and sending six emergency response teams to six states (Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Vermont) to improve response to the Omicron variant; expanding hospital capacity by activating FEMA response teams to assess hospital needs ahead of winter surges, providing support to states to help hospitals create and license more hospital beds, and deploying ambulances and emergency teams to transport patients to open beds; and providing critical supplies by pre-positioning PPE, ventilators, and other tools from the Strategic National Stockpile and deploying additional ventilators to states.
  • Robust access to free testing: The President announced the creation of new federal Covid-19 testing sites around the country, the first of which will open in New York City this week; the Administration will purchase half a billion at-home rapid tests this winter to distribute for free to Americans who want them, with delivery starting in January 2022; and the President will use the Defense Production Act and other authorities to ramp up production of at-home rapid tests.
  • Expanding capacity to get shots in arms: The Administration announced that FEMA will be standing up new pop-up vaccination clinics across the country—including one mobile unit in Washington and four in New Mexico that opened Dec. 21; the White House is deploying hundreds of federal vaccinators across 12 states, Tribes, and territories to improve vaccine access; HHS will issue an amendment to the PREP Act Declaration to allow for flexibility for pharmacists and pharmacy interns to administer a wider array of vaccinations across state lines; and the White House will be assisting pharmacies nationwide in scaling up vaccine programs to increase appointments and capacity.

“We should all be concerned about Omicron, but not panicked,” the President said in his Dec. 21 speech. “…This is not March of 2020… 200 million people are fully vaccinated. We’re prepared. We know more. We just have to stay focused.”

The President pointed out that, while current Covid-19 vaccines have been shown to be less effective at stopping infections from the Omicron variant, they still appear to offer relatively strong protection against hospitalization and death from the virus—and recent research suggests that booster vaccinations with the currently authorized mRNA vaccines substantially increase protection against Omicron. Therefore, the President noted, vaccinated individuals can go about their business as planned this holiday season, provided they mask up and take proper precautions.

The Medical Community Calls for Federal Aid—And Soon

Gerald E. Harmon, MD, President of the American Medical Association (AMA), issued a statement praising the Biden Administration’s Covid plan.

“As cases of Covid-19 sharply increase due to the Omicron variant, the nation’s health care system and capacity to deliver care is once again being put under stress,” Harmon wrote. “The Biden Administration’s announcement today to deploy additional medical personnel to Covid-burdened hospitals and stand-up new mass vaccination sites across the country will help alleviate some of the burden on the nation’s already overwhelmed health care workforce.”

The AMA president also urged any unvaccinated Americans who are eligible to get shots in their arms as soon as possible and help to diminish the “heartbreaking and deadly toll” the Covid-19 pandemic is having on the country.

“The Omicron variant is highly contagious and the unvaccinated remain most at risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death if infected,” he wrote. “We also encourage everyone to get their booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine as soon as they are eligible as data suggests that a booster dose provides greater protection against the new variant. In addition to getting vaccinated, we must each continue taking the evidence-based public health precautions, such as physical distancing and wearing face masks, that we know work to help stop the spread of Covid-19.”

Thomas G. Cooney, MD, MACP, Chair of the Board of Regents at the American College of Physicians (ACP), similarly applauded the Administrations plan, calling the White House’s Covid-19 mitigation strategies “essential.”

“As we have watched the rise in infections over recent days, we have been increasingly alarmed about both the health of the public, as well as the health of our health care system and workers,” Cooney wrote. “We appreciate that the administration’s plans include multiple tactics that will help to mitigate the spread of infections and support physicians and other health care professionals. Vaccinations alone will not control this pandemic, especially as we confront newer, more infectious variants. Vaccinations, boosters, masking, testing, and tracking all need to work in concert with each other to be most effective. Our physicians and health care facilities also need the additional support measures outlined by President Biden to continue to be able to provide care, as we expect to see the number of patients seeking treatment for Covid-19 infections increase, putting additional strain on an already burdened health care system.”

Cooney added that the Administration should move to disseminate its support as soon as possible: “Cases have been rising exponentially,” he wrote, “and by January infection rates are likely to be at a crisis point in much of the country.”

Are Covid Antivirals Coming This Holiday Season?

According to a report by Bloomberg News, anonymous sources with the FDA claim that emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for two Covid-19 antiviral pills—Pfizer’s paxlovid and Merck’s molnupiravir—are in the works for later this week, with an announcement slated to come as early as Wednesday.

Molnupiravir barely managed to snag an EUA recommendation from the FDA’s Antimicrobial Drugs Advisory Committee at the end of November—the drug was only found to reduce the risk of Covid-19 death or hospitalization by 30%, a substantial drop off from earlier interim results suggesting a reduction of 50%. While the committee concluded that the pill could potentially make a small difference in the Covid-19 pandemic, committee members also pointed out concerns over the drug’s potential to cause fetal harm and an increased incidence of Covid viral mutations in patients taking the pill. The FDA has yet to move on the advisory committee’s recommendation.

By comparison, paxlovid—Pfizer’s nirmatrelvir/ritonavir combo—was found to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death for any cause by 89% compared to placebo among non-hospitalized, high-risk adults with Covid-19 who received the treatment within three days of symptom onset. What’s more, the company claimed that the pill appeared to be effective against the Omicron variant.

The FDA declined to comment on the rumors.

John McKenna, Associate Editor, BreakingMED™

Cat ID: 190

Topic ID: 79,190,730,933,190,926,192,927,151,418,928,925,934