White House Covid adviser causes a stir by saying ‘God gave us two arms’ for flu shot and Covid booster

‘We are moving to a point where a single annual Covid shot should provide a high degree of protection against serious illness all year’ said White House Covid adviser Dr Ashish Jha

Johanna Chisholm
Thursday 08 September 2022 13:47 BST
UK approves first Covid-19 booster vaccine to target two variants

A White House Covid adviser has drawn criticism from conservatives by referencing God when encouraging Americans to get the latest coronavirus vaccine alongside the annual flu shot.

“The good news is you can get both your flu shot and Covid shot at the same time. It’s actually a good idea,” White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr Ashish Jha told a Tuesday press conference.

“I really believe this is why God gave us two arms, one for the flu shot and the other one for the Covid shot.”

Flanked by US health secretary Xavier Becerra and infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci, Dr Jha made the remarks in describing how Covid-19 could be treated more like the flu going forward, with individuals across the country receiving one annual shot that would provide a year-long defence against severe illness.

Conservatives and anti-vaxxers online were quick to call out the doctor’s invoking of God when discussing a vaccine campaign that faced particular resistance among the country’s Evangelical population. A report from the Public Religion Research Institute last year found that white evangelical Protestants, who make up 14.5 per cent of the population, were the least likely religious group to report getting a vaccine.

“God gave me two arms to toil responsibly for the good of my family & fellow humans, to hug & hold those I care about, to protect my loved ones & to live in freedom, all for the glory of God,” wrote one Twitter user, while others jeered that, “God also gave us a intelligence to see this is ridiculous,” and “Keep God out of this. This is the work of Satanists.”

In addition to announcing to shifting strategy around the timing of vaccinations, the US officials also signalled during the press briefing that there would be new boosters available this fall that, for the first time, target variants that are currently circulating, specifically the highly contagious BA.4 and BA.5 that have dominated recent waves throughout the US and Europe.

“As 99 per cent of circulating viruses in the United States are BA.5 or BA.4, updating our Covid-19 vaccines to match the circulating variants helps us to better be protected against these variants and future variants that might be closely related to Omicron,” said Dr Rochelle Walensky, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control, who screened into the briefing remotely.

These updated vaccines, like other iterations, will be made available to all Americans for free, the panel of health experts noted. By the end of this week, they added, 90 per cent of the populace will live within an 8km-walking distance of a site offering the updated jabs.

The fall campaign will be fully covered off, the US health secretary noted, but conceded that, because Congress has cut back funding for the Covid response funding, the government was forced to pull resources from resources like at-home tests and personal protective gear.

Mr Becerra warned that because of this, it leaves the country in a precarious position for vaccine campaigns down the road and less prepared to cope with any future waves in the winter and spring.

“We may have the vaccines today for folks for this fall vaccine effort. We don’t know what’s coming next. We don’t know what the next generation of vaccines will look like if we don’t have the resources to continue that research going,” he said.

The uptake of vaccines in the US has proved to be slightly better than the world average, with 67 per cent of the country reporting to be fully vaccinated compared to the global average of 64 per cent.

Federal officials noted during the address that, despite the keen uptake in the initial rounds of shots offered, the seven-day average for daily death rate was still proving to be too high, standing at about 375.

That daily average, CDC director Dr Walensky pointed out, is well above the 200 deaths a day that the US was witnessing in the spring and “far too high for a vaccine-preventable disease”.

The bivalent boosters that will be on offer in the fall, she added, are equipped to drop that daily death rate, lower the hospitalisation rate and save thousands of lives.

“Modelling projections show that an uptake of updated Covid-19 vaccine doses similar to an annual flu vaccine coverage early this fall could prevent as many as 100,000 hospitalisations and 9,000 deaths, and save billions of dollars in direct medical costs,” said Dr Walensky on Tuesday.

The boosters have so far been approved for those aged 12 and older from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna’s updated shot for those 18 and older, while Dr Jha noted during the briefing that the administration would be able to provide an update about bivalent jabs being made available to younger Americans in the fall.

“We know FDA is working on both updating the primary series and making booster shots for kids under 12 — the bivalent.  But that work is ongoing,” said Dr Jha. “But I don’t have any specific timeline or specific thing to offer.”

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