Other View: COVID surge shows why Biden administration needs updated vaccines, big new booster push

The FDA was slow to respond to evidence that the omicron variant of COVID-19 was eluding vaccines and infecting people who had been vaccinated.
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As COVID-19 killed thousands of Americans every day in late 2020 and early 2021, the U.S. government's rapid success in shepherding the creation, emergency approval and initial rollout of safe, effective, free vaccines was a major public health victory — one made all the more amazing because it came under a president who spent part of his last year in office saying the pandemic was less of a problem than it was .

But in another twist, after a good start to his pandemic response, President Joe Biden — who defeated Donald Trump in a campaign that emphasized he would be a stable, reliable hand on the wheel — is increasingly facing criticism that he has failed to rise to the challenge on two key issues.

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The first has to do with his administration's inexplicable passivity in responding to evidence that both the Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were not as effective in dealing with the variants and subvariants of the original version of the coronavirus. This is of particular concern with the omicron subvariants known as BA.4 and BA.5, which have spread rapidly across the nation in recent months, not only eluding some vaccinations but infecting the vaccinated multiple times. Though this group generally avoids severe health consequences, these reinfections only add to the vaccine skepticism that is common among millions of Americans. Yet it took until June 30 for the Food and Drug Administration to finally urge that vaccines be updated to better address the omicron threat.

The risks this delay poses are compounded by the increasing failure of campaigns to get the Americans most at risk of serious COVID-19 complications to protect themselves. As The Washington Post's Leana S. Wen has noted , just 34% of those 65 and older have received their second booster, and nearly 30% have not been boosted at all. That the original coronavirus''s successors have so far seemed less threatening doesn't mean future versions will follow suit. And spikes in cases and hospitalizations mean Los Angeles County may again mandate indoor masking.

This pandemic isn't over yet. The U.S. needs updated vaccines — and more people accepting them.


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