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White House not currently weighing COVID-19 domestic travel limits

U.S. sees highest vaccination day since May, with 2.2 million shots administered Thursday

President Joe Biden arrives with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., for the House Democrats' caucus meeting in the Capitol on Oct. 28, 2021.
President Joe Biden arrives with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., for the House Democrats' caucus meeting in the Capitol on Oct. 28, 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Joe Biden and his COVID-19 response team told reporters Friday they are not “at this point” considering imposing vaccine mandates or other new requirements for domestic flights ahead of the upcoming holiday travel season, and instead are focusing on international testing and providing Americans with extra vaccine protection.

Early signs show Americans are taking omicron seriously in the wake of the White House’s intense focus on the new variant. On Thursday, 2.2 million COVID-19 shots were administered in the United States, the highest vaccination day since May.

“The measures that I announced yesterday are, we believe, are sufficient to deal with the proper medical precautions to deal with the spread of this new variant,” the president said after delivering remarks on Friday’s jobs report. Biden also highlighted the ongoing requirement for wearing masks on commercial lights and in federal buildings.

The White House’s COVID-19 winter strategy announced Thursday focuses on boosting fully vaccinated Americans, convincing unvaccinated people to get shots and making it easier to access rapid tests. The administration has also put some restrictions and tighter testing protocols on international travel.

Several public health experts criticized Biden’s international travel restrictions, which blocked entry from eight African nations, as several cases of omicron have already been detected in six states within the United States including California and New York.

“The idea that you can build a wall around America to keep any COVID from around the world out is not there,” Biden said. “We’ve done more for the world with providing vaccines available and help than any nation, all — every other nation in the world combined.”

On Friday, the U.S. plans to ship 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to other countries, with 9 million going to Africa, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said at a separate briefing by administration health officials.

The U.S. has committed to sending 1.2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to other countries and has already shipped 291 million doses to 110 countries, more donations than all other countries combined.

The president said that South Africa was not seeking additional vaccine doses, but he suggested it was possible the U.S. could provide more logistical support to global vaccination efforts.

“Logistically, getting the vaccine from a container that gets delivered to you to a hospital, to a state … and getting in someone’s arm, that’s a very, very difficult thing,” the president said. “And we did it better than anybody in the world has done it, but we’ve got to try to help other people.”

Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health and scientists around the globe are trying to get a handle on how transmissible and severe the omicron variant may be.

Evidence strongly suggests that boosters will give cross-protection against severe disease from a number of variants, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci said at the briefing Friday. Recent studies show boosters increase antibody titers against the delta variant.

It will take several weeks to get full data on how much the omicron variant can escape vaccine protection, Fauci told reporters — about a week or two to get in vitro data, observing antibodies in the lab, and another week or two to get clinical data examining vaccine effectiveness.

As the country awaits omicron data, COVID-19 — mostly the delta strain — is still circulating. The recent U.S. seven-day average was about 86,400 COVID-19 cases, 6,300 hospitalizations and 860 deaths per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I know the news is focused on omicron, but we should remember 99.9 percent of cases across the country are driven by delta,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said.

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