WASHINGTON/ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (REUTERS) - United States President Joe Biden on Thursday (Sept 9) will present a six-pronged strategy intended to fight the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus Delta variant and increase US Covid-19 vaccinations, the White House said on Tuesday.
The US, which leads the world in Covid-19 cases and deaths, is struggling to stem a wave of infections driven by the variant even as officials try to persuade Americans who have resisted vaccination to get the shots. Rising caseloads have raised concerns as children head back to school, while also rattling investors and upending company return-to-office plans.
White House spokesman Jen Psaki told reporters travelling with Mr Biden aboard Air Force One that he will lay out the strategy "working across the public and private sectors to help continue to get the pandemic under control". Asked about possible new mandates, Ms Psaki said the White House would offer more details later about the plan and acknowledged that the federal government cannot broadly mandate that Americans get vaccinated.
"We need to continue to take more steps to make sure school districts are prepared and make sure communities across the country are prepared," Ms Psaki added.
A White House official familiar with the plan said it would touch on mandates, testing, and schools. "There is a path out," the official said, noting a sense of hopelessness by some in the country about the pandemic.
The official added the private sector could do more on the issue and that Mr Biden would take on vaccine hesitancy as well.
On Wednesday, Mr Biden is scheduled to meet with White House Covid-19 advisers.
The US has recorded roughly 650,000 Covid-19 deaths and last week exceeded 40 million cases. Reuters data shows that more than 20,800 people have died in the country from Covid-19 in the past two weeks, up about 67 per cent from the prior two-week period.
Hospitalisations have grown, with seven states - Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Tennessee and Washington - reporting records this month.
Mr Biden previously announced plans to offer booster shots more widely, pending regulatory approval. His chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci on Tuesday said officials are still aiming to do so starting the week of Sept 20.
US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisers are scheduled to meet on Sept 17 to consider a possible third shot of Pfizer and BioNTech's two-dose vaccine, the only Covid-19 vaccine yet to receive full approval from the agency.
Dr Fauci told CNN Pfizer's third shot appears likely to be rolled out first, with Moderna's version "close behind". Moderna has sought full FDA approval of its two-dose vaccine. Booster doses are already approved by US regulators for people with compromised immune systems.
US officials have said they expect vaccines to be approved for children younger than 12 this winter. With US students already starting a new school year, battles over public health efforts, including mandates that pupils wear masks, erupted in many places across the country.
In the private sector, increasing numbers of US employers have imposed vaccine mandates for employees. The Biden administration has hailed efforts by businesses, universities and others to bolster vaccinations.
According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 62.3 per cent of Americans have received at least one vaccine dose and 53 per cent - 176 million people - are fully vaccinated. Counting the population eligible for vaccines - people aged 12 and older - 72.9 per cent have received at least one dose and 62 per cent are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.