President Joe Biden on Thursday (December 2) laid out his strategy to fight the coronavirus (COVID-19) as the highly contagious Omicron variant spread across the globe with winter coming and hours after the first known US case of community transmission of the strain was reported.
With authorities around the world scrambling to contain Omicron, Biden warned in no uncertain terms that infections will rise this winter.
Speaking at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, see his address in full below:
You know, in February, I came out here to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and to our Vaccine Research Center to thank all of you: the world-class doctors, scientists, researchers — for the incredible work you’ve done during the pandemic and developing the vaccines, saving lives, giving us hope, also, continuing to give me advice on developments as they occur.
Today, I’m back to announce our action plan to battle COVID-19 this winter; not that any of it is a surprise to any of you because it’s the combined advice from all of you that we developed this plan. And it doesn’t include shutdowns or lockdowns but widespread vaccinations and boosters and testing and a lot more.
There are five key actions that I want to see us take this winter.
First of all is expanding the nationwide booster campaign with more outreach, more appointments, more hours, more times and sites to walk in, providing boosters shots for up to 100 million Americans who are eligible for boosters.
But the second point is that launching new family vaccination clinics to make it easier for children, parents, and whole families to get vaccinated in one place, and new policies to keep our children in school instead of quarantining them at home. I’ll talk about the detail of each of these in a moment.
The third piece of this is making free at-home tests more available than ever before and having them covered by your private insurance plans, available in thousands of locations, and available at community health centers and other sites for the uninsured who don’t have insurance.
Four, increasing our “Surge Response Teams” that our doctors, our nurses — I know the people in this audience know incredibly well about what a surge team is but — medical staff into communities with rising cases and overburdened hospitals and short on personnel.
And by the way, they make a gigantic difference. The governors, Republican governors as well as Democratic governors contact me when I go into their states, talk about “thank you for these surge teams” because it really makes a difference in some communities [that] are hit so much harder than others.
The fifth thing, we’re going to accelerate our efforts to vaccinate the rest of the world and strengthen the international travel rules for people coming to the United States.
My plan that I’m announcing today pulls no punches in the fight against COVID-19. And it’s a plan that I think should unite us.
I know COVID-19 has been very divisive in this country. It’s become a political issue, which is a sad, sad commentary. It shouldn’t be, but it has been.
Now as we move into the winter and face the challenge of this new variant, this is a moment we can put this divisiveness behind us, I hope.
This is a moment we can do what we haven’t been able to do enough of through this whole pandemic: get the nation to come together, unite the nation in a common purpose to fight this virus, to protect one another, to protect our economic recovery, and to think of it in terms of literally a patriotic responsibility rather than a — somehow you’re denying people their basic rights.
The plan I’m announcing today is a plan our scientists and COVID teams have recommended.
And while my existing federal vaccination requirements are being reviewed by the courts, this plan does not expand or add to those mandates — a plan that all Americans, hopefully, can rally around.
And it should be and should get bipartisan support, in my humble opinion. And it should unite us, not continue to separate us.
But, as I explained on Monday, this new variant [Omicron] is cause for concern but not panic.
We knew there’d be cases of Omicron here in the United States, and it’s here. But we have the best tools — the best vaccines in the world and the best medicine and the best scientists in the world.
We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion, just like we beat back COVID-19 in the spring and more powerful variant — Delta variant in the summer and fall.
As a result, we enter this winter from a position of strength compared to where America was last winter.
Last Christmas, fewer than 1 per cent of American adults were fully vaccinated. This Christmas, that number will be 77-72 per cent, including more than 86 per cent of seniors — the most vulnerable population.
Last Christmas, our children were at risk without a COVID-19 vaccine. This Christmas, we have safe, effective vaccines for children age five and older, with 20 million children and counting now vaccinated.
Last year, a majority of our schools were closed Christmastime in that area. Now over 99 per cent of our schools are open.
But I’ve pledged to always be straight and give it to you straight from the shoulder as President of the United States and tell the American people exactly where we are.
So, here it is: Experts say that COVID-19 cases will continue to rise in the weeks ahead in this winter, so we need to be ready.
You can read the whole plan we’re talking about here at WhiteHouse.gov. Go to WhiteHouse.gov and it’s all laid out in detail.
For now, here are the five key points I want to expand on slightly.
We’re expanding our national booster campaign to provide booster shots to all eligible adults.
Our docs and the scientists believe that people who get a booster shot are more protected than ever from COVID-19.
And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and our top public [health] officials recommend all adults get a booster shot when it’s time.
But here’s the deal: More than about 100 million are eligible for boosters but haven’t gotten the booster shot yet.
Folks, if you’re over the age of 18 and you got vaccinated before June the 2nd, six months has gone by. Go get your booster now. Go get it now.
Booster shots continue to be free. We’ve already made available 80,000 locations coast-to-coast in the United States of America — 80,000 locations to get the booster.
And if you want to know exactly where to go, text your ZIP Code to 438829 to find where you can get your booster shot now.
And starting today, we’re making it easier than ever to get a booster shot.
I’m calling on pharmacies big and small to offer more appointments, more walk-in hours, including on weeknights and weekends — so you can get vaccinated at a time that works best for you and your family.
Pharmacies will send millions of texts and emails to remind their customers to return for their booster shots because they know who got they got the booster at [CVS] you got to—they’ve agreed they’re going to send texts to that particular person when their time is up—if it’s Pfizer or Moderna, six months; if it’s J&J, two months.
And to reach out [to] seniors, we’re also collaborating with the American Association of Retired Persons [AARP], who will be reaching out to their 38 million members. They’re going to make an aggressive effort.
They’re going to be hosting virtual town halls to answer questions and even arrange rides for seniors to get their booster shots. And so that will all be coming.
My administration also will contact the  million people on Medicare to remind them to get their booster shots. We have the ability to do that from the federal level.
And just like I did to make it easier for folks to get their first and second shots, I’m providing paid off-time for federal employees who get their booster. All they have to do is demonstrate that’s where they went — or they took their son, daughter, husband, wife, mom, dad — they get paid. They don’t get docked their pay.
And I’m asking other employers in the private sector to do the same thing.
No one should have to choose between a paycheck and getting additional protection for a booster shot.
Now, I want to reiterate: Dr [Anthony] Fauci and Dr [Francis] Collins believe if you’re worried about the Omicron variant, the best thing to do is to get fully vaccinated and then get your booster shot when you’re eligible.
We don’t yet believe that additional measures will be needed. But so that we are prepared if needed, my team is already working with officials at Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for other vaccines or boosters.
And I’ll also direct the FDA and the CDC to use the fastest process available without cutting corners on safety to get such vaccines renewed, reviewed and approved if they’re needed.
Second, we’re expanding our efforts to vaccinate children ages five and up. For any parent worried about Omicron variant or the Delta variant, get your child vaccinated at one of 35,000 locations in the country, including doctors’ offices, pharmacies, children’s hospitals, and 9,000 pop-up clinics at schools.
If you’re wondering where to go, again, visit [Vaccines.gov].
And today, I’m announcing that we’re going to launch hundreds of new family vaccination clinics across the country. These sites are going to offer vaccinations for the whole family. One stop. Children can get vaccinated. Parents can get vaccinated, get their first or second shots or their booster shots.
Family vaccination clinics will be held in community health centers and other trusted locations. Some will be mobile to reach further into hard-to-reach communities. If it’s booster shots for adults, vaccinations for kids — all at the same place at the same time.
Now, you know, when we first announced, I said the logistical problem — it wasn’t just that we didn’t have enough vaccines when we got into office. But once we got the vaccine, the logistical effort to get all communities and all areas vaccinated was a gigantic logistical undertaking that would make any military proud of being able to do it. But because of the incredible talent, including our military, we got that done. And we can do the same thing now as we continue to expand.
We know parents of children under the age of five are wondering when the vaccine will be available for their little ones. That’s the question I most get often asked now at functions.
We had a function celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas and various things at the White House. The parents coming up to me, they’re saying, “I have a three-year-old. Is there going to be a time that that can — am I going to be okay? Is she going to be okay — or he going to be okay?”
And let me say this: I strongly support the independent scientific review of vaccine usage for children under five. We can’t take shortcuts with that scientific work.
But I’ll do everything in my power to support the FDA to do this safely and quickly as possible when we get to that — to that point.
Vaccinating our children is also critical to keeping our schools open. But while over 99 per cent of schools are open now, we need to make sure we keep that throughout the winter — this winter.
The CDC is now reviewing pioneering approaches like “test to stay” policies, which would allow students to stay in the classroom and be tested frequently when a positive case in that classroom popped up and it wasn’t them. Up to now, you go home and you quarantine. But rather than being sent home and quarantining, they’d be able to stay because a test would be available and regularly.
The CDC will be releasing the latest science and other findings in the coming weeks so that other schools can learn if there [are] any impediments in this practice, they can learn to implement exactly what the best way to do this is. This is a process.
We want our children in school, and we are going to take new steps to make sure it stays that way.
But again, the best step is to vaccinate your children. Get them vaccinated.
The third, this winter we are going to make free at-home tests more available to Americans than ever before.
To better detect and control the Delta variant, I made testing more available, affordable, and convenient. I used the Defense Production Act to increase production of rapid tests, including at-home tests.
When I came into office, none of these tests were on the market. Thanks to our actions and the work of all of you, we now have at least eight at-home testing options and prices for those tests are coming down. But it still isn’t good enough, in my view.
That’s why I am announcing that health insurers must cover the cost of at-home testing. So that if you’re one of the 150 million Americans with private health insurance, next month your plan will cover at-home tests.
Private insurers already cover the expensive PCR test that you get at a doctor’s office. And now they will cover at-home tests as well.
Now, for those not covered by private insurance, we’re going to make available free tests at thousands of convenient locations for folks to pick them up and take a test kit home.
The bottom line: This winter, you’ll be able to test for free in the comfort of your home and have some peace of mind.
This is on top of the 20,000 sites already around the country, like pharmacies, where you can go in and get tested for free. We have to keep this going.
Fourth, we’re going to continue to help communities that experience rising cases this winter and improve the care — the care for those who get COVID-19.
Since this summer, we have worked with Republican and Democratic governors — as many Republican governors as Democratic governors — to deploy what we call “surge response teams.”
These teams work. They provide needed staff for staff overruns at — badly needed staff where over-run hospitals are handling more patients than they can — they can handle for their emergency rooms and intensive care units who don’t have the personnel available. They help provide lifesaving treatments in communities in need, like monoclonal antibody treatments.
We have over 20 teams deployed now.
Today, I’m announcing that we’re going to more than double [that]. We’re going to get to 60 teams ready to deploy to states that experience a surge in cases over the course of this winter.
I was just with the governor in Minnesota, who is raving about the positive impact it’s had on his state. But there’s other states in the same circumstance.
Additionally, we’re increasing the availability of new medicines recommended by real doctors, not conspiracy theorists. Okay?
For example, monoclonal antibody treatments have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization by up to 70 per cent and –for unvaccinated people at risk of developing severe disease.
We’ve already distributed over 3 million courses of these treatments to save lives and reduce the strain on hospitals.
And we have antiviral pills on the horizon that could help prevent hospitalizations and death of people infected by COVID-19.
We’ve secured enough supply of these pills already. And early indications are that these treatments will remain effective in the face of Omicron.
We don’t know that for sure yet, but that’s the hope and expectation.
And like with the distribution of the vaccines, we will ensure that these medicines will be available to the hardest-hit communities in America as well.
Fifth and finally, as we’ve seen with COVID-19 and the Delta variant and now with the Omicron variant, all that emerged elsewhere; it all came from somewhere else. And ultimately, to beat this pandemic, we need to go to where it came and the rest of the world.
We also need to vaccinate the rest of the world. America, in my view, continues to lead in that effort.
We have shipped, for free, more vaccines around the world than all other countries in the world combined — every other country combined. Over 280 million vaccines far to 110 countries, including to South Africa, where we’ve delivered all the doses they requested.
Now, today I am announcing that we’ll accelerate the delivery of more vaccines to countries that need it, pledging to deliver 200 million doses on our way to delivering more than 1,200,000,000 doses for the rest of the world.
Let me be clear: Not a single vaccine dose America ever sends to the rest of the world will ever come at the expense of any American. I’ll always make sure that our people are protected first. But vaccinating the world is not just a moral tool — a moral obligation that we have, in my view; it’s how we protect Americans, as we’re seeing with this new variant.
America is doing our part, and we’ll do more. But this is a global pandemic, and everyone needs to fight it together.
And that includes countries we’re helping that aren’t particularly friendly toward us. Their populations are in trouble.
To their credit, the scientific community, particularly in South Africa, quickly notified the world of the emergence of this new variant.
This kind of transparency is to be encouraged and applauded because it increases our ability to respond quickly to any new threats. And that’s what we did.
On the very day the World Health Organization identified the new variant, I took an immediate step to restrict travel from the countries in Southern Africa.
But while we know that travel restrictions can slow the spread of Omicron, they cannot prevent it. But it does give us a little more time to take more precautions at home to prepare.
A month ago, we announced requirements that foreign travellers must be vaccinated if entering the United States.
This week, I announced an additional action to strengthen international travel rules to give us more time to stop the spread and study a new variant.
It used to be that an international traveller flying to the United States had to test negatively three days before their departure from the other country.
Well, I’m announcing today that all inbound international travellers must test within one day of departure, regardless of their vaccination status or nationality.
This tighter testing timeline provides an added degree of protection as scientists continue to study the Omicron variant.
And we are extending the requirement, both internationally and domestically, to wear masks for travel on aircraft, trains, and public transportation through the winter months.
I’ll close with this. Again, the actions I’m announcing are ones that all Americans can rally behind and should unite us in the fight against COVID-19.
And they come from a position of strength. We are better positioned than we were a year ago to fight COVID-19.
Since day one of my administration, we’ve been doing everything we can to beat this virus. And that’s what we have to keep doing. That’s how we keep our country and our businesses and our schools open.
And that’s how, even with a pandemic, we’ve generated record job creation — 5.6 million new jobs since January 20th — more than any President in American history.
We’re on the track to the fastest economic growth in four decades.
We have moved forward in the face of COVID-19 and the Delta variant. And we’ll move forward in the face of Omicron variant as well. And we’ll do it by keeping the faith and doing it together as the United States of America.
Let me close again by saying God bless our doctors, our scientists, and all of you here at the NIH for what you’re doing for the country and, quite frankly, for the world. You’re the best. You’re the very, very best. May God bless you all. And thank you for your patience in listening to me. Thank you.”