White House’s Covid coordinator urges people to get vaccinated ahead of holidays

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha at the White House in Washington, October 25, 2022.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
As Covid and flu hospitalizations have climbed in the weeks since Thanksgiving, White House’s Covid-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said families will be safer at upcoming holiday gatherings if they get their updated vaccines.

This year, hospitals are facing the simultaneous threat of Covid, flu and RSV for the first time. Circulation of flu and RSV was very low during the pandemic due to widespread masking and social distancing implemented in response to Covid, but as most people return to normal life, all three viruses are circulating widely.

As of Dec. 14, the 7-day average of weekly new Covid cases reached 65,067, a 2.9% decrease from the previous week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The good news here is that we can prevent those infections from turning into serious illness if people go out and get that updated bivalent vaccine,” Jha told ABC’s “This Week” Sunday.

Public health officials have said many people are probably more vulnerable to flu and RSV this year because they weren’t infected in the past two years, which means their immunity is lower. Around 23,503 patients were admitted to the hospital with influenza this week, the CDC reported, while RSV hospitalizations appear to have peaked in some states.

Hospitalizations of people with Covid topped more than 5,000 per day on average, according to the CDC.

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said it’s going to be a “difficult few weeks,” and he told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” Sunday that this year’s respiratory pathogen season is the “worst in recent memory.”

Gottlieb said it has been a historic year for the flu in particular.

“80% of hospital beds right now are full. The hospitals haven’t been this full since the peak of the omicron wave last winter,” he said. “The difference is that last winter, 25% of those hospital beds were filled with Covid admissions. Right now, only 6% are filled with Covid admissions.”

Even though it is safe to gather in groups this year, Jha said staying up to date on vaccines will be essential for keeping people out of the hospital.

“I got my flu shot last year. I don’t expect that to protect me this winter,” he said. “I go out and get my flu shot every winter, in the same way people have to go out and get their Covid shot.”

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