US President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass billions of dollars in additional funding to fight the Covid-19 pandemic on Wednesday, as he received a second booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine a day after federal regulators approved a fourth shot for those aged 50 and older.
Mr Biden spoke as his administration rolled out covid.gov, designed to be a one-stop website to help people in the US access Covid-19 tests, vaccines and treatments, along with status updates on infection rates where they live.
Mr Biden pressed lawmakers to provide additional funding “immediately” to ensure continued supply of the tools that have helped the nation begin to emerge from the pandemic.
“Congress, we need to secure additional supply now,” he said, warning of shortages of vaccines, tests and treatments. “This isn’t partisan, it’s medicine.”
The president received the first series of two doses of the coronavirus vaccine shortly before taking office and a first booster shot in September. The additional booster dose was administered by a member of the White House Medical Unit.
“It didn’t hurt a bit,” Mr Biden said.
The additional booster is meant to beef up the body’s protection against Covid-19 in populations most vulnerable to the coronavirus, which has killed more than 975,000 people in the US.
On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) cleared the way for another shot for anyone 50 and older, who can get the additional booster at least four months after their last vaccination. Severely immune-compromised patients, such as organ transplant recipients, as young as 12, are also eligible.
“We have enough supply to give booster shots to those newly eligible individuals, but if Congress fails to act, we won’t have the supplies we need this fall,” Mr Biden warned, noting the possibility that regulators will approve a fourth shot for all Americans.
"Even worse, if we need a different vaccine for the future to combat a new variant, we're not gonna have enough money to purchase it."
A subvariant of the highly-transmissible Omicron that scientists call BA.2 is now the dominant coronavirus mutant in the US. The CDC says it accounts for nearly 55 per cent of new infections across the nation.
Scientists say one reason BA.2 has gained ground is that it’s about 30 per cent more contagious than the original Omicron. In rare cases, research shows it can sicken people even if they’ve already had an Omicron infection. But it still causes as severe disease as the original, and vaccines appear just as effective against it. The unvaccinated, though, are at a far greater risk.
"We're now in a new moment in this pandemic, and it does not mean the Covid-19 is over," Mr Biden declared.