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Boosters, masks and mandates: Biden’s team sorts through options for containing Covid surge among unvaccinated Americans

<i>Drew Angerer/Getty Images North America/Getty Images</i><br/>U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the start of a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on July 20
Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the start of a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on July 20

By Kevin Liptak, CNN

The Biden administration is debating a series of steps to further contain the Covid-19 pandemic, which, after 18 months, is again surging in parts of the country where vaccination rates are low.

A senior administration health official said the government is “actively exploring” how to provide extra vaccine shots to vulnerable populations, who officials now increasingly expect will require boosters, as they await the US Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the three vaccines currently authorized for emergency use. The White House on Friday announced a purchase of hundreds of millions of additional Pfizer doses, in part to be prepared in case the booster shots are needed.

Discussions are ongoing over whether to revisit mask guidelines, a decision officials say will be left to the US Food and Drug Administration and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but that nonetheless comes loaded with political baggage after the celebratory lifting of mask mandates this spring. White House aides said they did not believe any new recommendations were imminent but acknowledged they have previously received little warning when the CDC updates its guidelines. According to sources familiar with internal discussions, the health agency is reconsidering its stance on mask orders.

And Biden himself is facing pressure to back vaccine requirements among certain groups of people or in particular places, a step his team has so far been reluctant to get behind even as other leaders, including in Europe, have seen their countries’ vaccination rates rise after making such a move.

Ultimately, curbing the current spike is hampered by continued vaccine hesitancy in certain pockets of the country, a problem underscoring the limits of the President’s ability to control the pandemic. Biden has been explicit in declaring the current outbreak “a pandemic among the non-vaccinated” — stressing that current hospitalizations and deaths are almost exclusively among those who have not gotten the shots.

But as reports of breakthrough cases, almost all of them mild, in vaccinated people become more frequent — including this week in a White House aide — the administration is looking for further ways to rein in the virus.

“What’s happening now is all the major scientific operations in this country and the 25-person group we put together are looking at all the possibilities,” Biden said on Thursday, describing an all-hands approach to the situation.

The war’s not done

He was speaking after receiving an Oval Office briefing from his Covid team that ran well past its allotted time. Biden receives daily updates on current numbers and has questioned his staff for information about the highly contagious Delta variant and vaccination rates around the country.

“What they’re doing is they’re going into — investigating every aspect of any change that could or might take place,” Biden said after the meeting. “But the vaccines are good against all of the variants that are out there, including the Delta variant.”

A day later, the White House said it had purchased an additional 200 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, in part to prepare for the potential that boosters will be recommended once more data is generated from ongoing studies.

The White House said the purchase was also in anticipation of authorization for the vaccine’s use in children under 12, which Biden said during a CNN town hall this week that he expected to happen “soon” but health experts believe won’t come until later on in the year, or possibly in 2022.

In a statement Friday, the CDC said it was “exploring multiple options for how to make a third dose possible for the immunocompromised if needed.” Among administration health officials, the prospect of requiring a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines is viewed as an increasingly likely scenario as new reports suggest the vaccines’ efficacy is limited for people with compromised immunity.

The preparation for possible booster shots, combined with discussions about revisiting mask recommendations, are the latest ways the administration is working to contain a pandemic that only weeks ago appeared to be waning. Biden has worried that the spike in cases could erase hard-fought gains against the pandemic, which he is expected to use as a political talking point over the coming year.

Forty-eight states have seven-day averages of new cases that are at least 10% higher than the week before, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Only 48.8% of the US population is fully vaccinated.

Biden and his aides have so far been careful to avoid pinning outright responsibility for the situation on those Americans who have declined to be vaccinated. “I don’t think our role is to place blame,” press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.

But as the potential for new restrictions — even for vaccinated people — emerges in individual states and cities, Biden has faced pressure to put more of the onus on the unvaccinated to bear the brunt of the new requirements. He and his team have debated and rejected the idea of vaccine passports and are still wary of efforts that would require individuals to provide proof of vaccination.

Pressure grows over vaccination requirements

That stands in contrast to leaders like France’s Emmanuel Macron, who is trying to coerce his population into getting vaccinated by making life extraordinarily difficult for those who don’t. His announcement that proof of vaccination will be required for most indoor public venues — including cafés — spurred angry protests but also a major surge in vaccination appointments.

In the United States, officials are still weighing how much backing to give businesses and organizations that require vaccines for their employees or apply outsized consequences on those who choose not to get shots.

That balancing act was on display Friday when Psaki was asked about the NFL’s memo released Thursday that stated that any game delayed by a Covid-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players or staff members that can’t be rescheduled will result in a forfeit for the team responsible for the outbreak. The memo also stated that players from both teams won’t be paid for that week’s game if it must be canceled.

Psaki said she wouldn’t make a “sweeping private-sector conclusion” about whether the memo was appropriate but that “This is guidance they determined, the NFL, about how they’re going to proceed with their season. That is their role to do.”

One former Biden aide said he thinks it’s time to turn up the heat on the unvaccinated.

“It’s going to take more than him to make the case. It’s going to take getting very aggressive,” said Andy Slavitt, who until recently was Biden’s senior adviser for Covid response.

He added, “If people say they don’t want to be vaccinated, which some people might say, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say: ‘That’s fine. But we’d like you to show up every morning, an hour before work, and get a negative test, maybe even at your own expense,’ until the point where people will say: ‘You know what? It makes more sense to actually get vaccinated.’ “

A tricky discussion on masking

Absent more aggressive vaccine requirements, officials in several places — including Los Angeles — have been forced to return to earlier requirements on masks.

Renewed administration discussions about revisiting mask recommendations revolve around what messages on masking the White House should offer, and what guidance the CDC should issue, sources familiar with the matter say. White House officials have repeatedly said it will be up to the CDC whether to change official guidance.

“They have to do something,” one senior official said, noting the importance of public messaging amid mounting questions.

On masks in particular, a reversal of the loosened recommendations would dampen what had been a psychological milestone after more than a year of pandemic-era restrictions.

“We have to be honest that we’re asking people who are fully vaccinated basically to sacrifice, because it’s so hard to enforce mask-wearing based on vaccination status,” said Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the CDC and president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“You do get some additional protection and we have seen some mild breakthrough cases, so that’s an added benefit. But if we had a fully vaccinated population, or highly vaccinated population, we wouldn’t be talking about needs for putting in place mask mandates again.”

After news emerged that the administration was discussing a change in guidelines, Psaki called the reports “breathless” and suggested talk of re-masking was premature — while still acknowledging the conversations were underway.

“We’ve never said that battle is over. It’s still ongoing. It would be more concerning, or should be more concerning, to all of you and the American people if we were not having those conversations,” she said.

Proactive purchases

Officials similarly described the purchase of the new Pfizer doses as proactive and said any recommendation on boosters would come from health experts.

Still, at a Thursday meeting of the CDC’s advisory panel on vaccines, officials said they were exploring ways to get additional doses — beyond the current one- or two-dose regimen — of the currently authorized vaccines to immunocompromised people. That includes people being treated for cancer and those who have had organ transplants or have HIV.

“FDA is actively exploring all regulatory options for providing access to additional doses of authorized vaccine in situations where data suggest that the benefit would outweigh the risks,” Dr. Doran Fink, from the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told CDC advisers in the meeting.

“This is truly an important scientific issue and an important public health issue,” Fink said about the possible benefit of extra vaccine doses for immunocompromised people.

Recent reports have suggested that Covid-19 vaccines are not effective enough in people with weakened immune systems, and last week the CDC revised its guidance for fully vaccinated individuals, warning people who are immunocompromised that the vaccines may not be as effective for them.

Earlier this month, Pfizer announced it would be seeking authorization to provide a third dose of its Covid-19 vaccine as a booster, citing data from Israel on the continued spread of the coronavirus and the limited efficacy against the more transmissible Delta variant.

Still, the CDC has not yet formally recommended boosters for anyone. And federal health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, continue to say the US needs more data before recommending coronavirus vaccine boosters for anyone.

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Kristen Holmes contributed to this report.

Coronavirus / News

CNN Newsource



  1. Sounds very much like socialism…or dictatorship…you will get a vaccination or else. Why don’t those geniuses just let it run its course. If those people don’t want to get vaccinations they take the risk of death.

      1. Insurance companies should be allowed to deny payment for treatment of unvaccinated morons who get the virus and vaccinated folks should get priority over these idiots for care. See how fond of “liberty” and “self reliance” they are when that happens!!!!

    1. The vaxed run the same risk with the fake vaccine. Once injected there is no turning back. At least I have the opportunity to used time tested treatments such as HCQ, Ivermectin, and other such proven treatments. I am safe. Those who take the jab are not.

    2. Because the unvaccinated are also increasing the risk for the vaccinated as well. When you get a vaccination, it is not some magical talisman proof against all infection. It means you are considerably less likely to contract the disease and if you do, you are far less likely to become seriously ill.

      However, when you have large amounts of unvaccinated people you are forced to associate with, you increase your exposure and the odds that you will get a breakthrough infection, odds that wouldnt have increased at all if you were only around other vaccinated people.

      Then there is the matter of the unvaccinated being petri dishes for virual mutations. And that can drastically reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

      All things that would not happen if people would just take the vaccine.

      We should be so lucky that the unvaccinated only end up killing their own selves. It would be Darwin riding to the long term rescue of our society. However thats not what happens.

  2. Start with the sick-elderly-frail-and those with underlying conditions. Isolate them and control everything they come in contact with- start spraying rooms with HOCL. Everyone else- focus on herd immunity- go about your daily lives as if Biden and the Dems never existed- they brought this misery upon us- time to kick them to the curb as they’ve failed- data don’t lie.

    1. President Biden should be continuing the amazingly successful strategy of his totally failed and of course fired predecessor. More lying, denying and DYING!!! That way he could avoid reelection!! ROTFLMAO!!!

      1. But wait, your messiah Sleepy Creepy China Joe Obiden promised us that science said IF we got the vaccine we would be fine, everything would be Rainbow stew and Bubble up. Do you mean he is wrong? Or just a lying sack of spraints’? But hey, no worries, Sleepy Creepy China Joe Obiden will fix everything, Just ask Hunter and The ATF!!!!

    2. HA!HA!HA!HA! BGHW, I never stopped going about my daily life. You see, I have never given up my God given rights over a flu bug. Not even for a second.

  3. “a pandemic among the non-vaccinated” Really? They’re going to stick with that after the announcement that several of the vaccinated democrats who left Texas for DC on a chartered jet came down with Covid?

    1. Your glorious and soon to be reinstated orange snowflake loser will fix this. Because well he alone can this! Just like he fixed the election!!!ROTFLMAO!!! Cannot stop laughing at the failed disaster that is big fat lying donnie the orange!!!! Just toooooo fuuuunny!!!

    1. Yes it’s only a matter of time before he’s seen unfit to be president. God help us when Princess Kamala is sworn in. I predicted this back in December.

  4. The Democrats complained about everything Trump did, let’s see how their Moron in Chief does. I would think he would close the southern border for starters, but he is not running the show.

    1. You mean the “moron in chief” who completely destroyed your whiner in chief without even campaigning!!!!!soooooo much losing for ya!!!LMAO!!!

      1. Not according to the preliminary Arizona Audit ! Outside of that yet to be dropped bombshell… how do you explain the complete lack of enthusiasm for Biden ? His public speeches are as quiet as a graveyard- his town-hall was beat out by I Love Lucy reruns on MeTV ! Where exactly are them 81 million rabid supporters ?

      2. Not without cheating. The truth is quickly being revealed. The targeted election fraud is, at present, being revealed Herr Gropenselfer

      3. Is your name because you support Biden groping kids on national TV? Lots of video of joe Biden being inappropriate with a lot of young and older women he gets in reaching distance of. You condone that?

      4. Maybe you could personally tryout for being the real life bad guy on an episode of law and order SVU? After all, your pretty messed up in the head with all the nonsense you post. You could be a star like Jeffrey Dahmer?$$$$

  5. Bunker “Donnie” is the problem – It’s just one guy travelling in from China. We have this handled. Remember he did not want to scare the people, so he lied about how bad it is or could be like he was told 2 months earlier.

    Now all these idiots will not get a shot and will spread COVID, yes it is their choice but I think it is our choice to send them home and let them die there not in the Hospital.

    Stupid people listen to Fox news and not the DR’s and CDC but then they listen to Q and Greene. It was just like any other day at the Capital on Jan 6th.

    Maybe these people should just move to Florida and join the non-vaxxers there they are doing good.

    1. “Fox News”, “bunker Donnie”, “send them home and let them die”, “yes their choice but”. Just because people haven’t got the Covid vaccine doesn’t mean they’re “non-vaxcers”. Maybe just focus more on shutting the hell up and taking A minute to listen and maybe even understand somebody’s views other than your own. Lots of people on Flordia have their covid shot. That doesn’t make them a saint any more then you are. Idiot.

    2. Biden lied from day one when he shouted ‘Cmon Man- Just wear a mask”- even tho he knew that Fauci didn’t support masks ! President Trump was initially following the CDC and WHO- then quickly realized- they’re out to protect China- and called everyone out on it ! President Trump was also the first world-leader to shut down air traffic out of China- Biden called him a racist ! “Bunker Donnie” aint your problem ! The Demokrat party of haters and a colluding media are ! Learn the diff or repeat the same mistakes… Impeach Biden- Save the Planet !

      1. “President Trump was also the first world-leader to shut down air traffic out of China”. I landed in LAX on March 30th 2020 from China…..

        1. And today ? California is #1 in both most cases and #1 (passing New York) in the most deaths… coincidence or just smarmy arrogance ? Recall Newsom-Brown-and Inslee… these three Demokant Governors set this whole mess in motion and should be held accountable.

    3. Are you that ignorant Dale? Have you not been paying attention? Those who get the jab can still contract it and spread it. The problem is, now those who have received the jab will ay the consequences of the after effects of the jab. VAERS does not report accurate data. VAERS is controlled by the lying CDC

      1. You seem to have your poopers confused- reported nationwide by the mainstream media- back on March 31 of 2021- ….”According to The New York Post, a pool reporter noticed on Wednesday that there was “dog poo” on the floor near the Diplomatic Room”… If you insist on lowering the level of discourse to include either poop or stool comments- do try to get it right !

  6. Where’s the news on London, Italy, Melbourne protesting against lockdowns, masks & vaccines? Why don’t you show the real news of people sick of dictatorship. PS tell your orange head Jen Psaki to stop spread misinformation to her sheep herd. Cuba is protesting against communism not lack of vaccine supplies. If you believe Biden Admiration BS you should get vaccinated and wear a mask. The media is the enemy! Eyes on the forensic audits!

  7. Having worked in an OR for 30years before I retired, I learned one indisputable fact. Most masks and certainly not face covers only protect one from transmitting a disease. They will not protect one from contracting a disease. I learned a golden rule. Wash your hands! I also feel strongly that avoiding large indoor gatherings is essential to prevent contracting any disease.

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