With the Biden administration urging people to get both a COVID-19 booster and a flu shot as soon as possible, the White House's Dr. Ashish Jha said Sunday that updated vaccinations will help people "move on" from the pandemic.
"It's been, obviously, a long two and a half years for Americans, and we understand that people want to move on," Jha, the White House COVID-19 coordinator, told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz of the virus that has killed more than 1 million people in the U.S. "The good news is people can move on if they keep their immunity up to date."
COVID-19 deaths are still averaging more than 2,000 per week and only about 11% of the country has gotten the latest booster compared to 80% of people who completed the primary course of vaccination that was rolled out in 2021, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"We've talked about this so many times: People aren't listening," Raddatz said of the federal government's push for vaccinations while low booster rates remain the norm.
"What do you do?" she asked Jha. He reiterated that the vaccines give crucial protection and he said he believes uptake will increase in the coming weeks: "Historically, people tend to get their flu shot in November and December and to January."
"We think it's incredibly important as we head into the holidays for people to update their immunity, get the new COVID vaccine, get the flu shot. It's a great way to stay safe and healthy this holiday season." he said
About 26% of adults are estimated to have received a flu vaccine as of October, according to the CDC, while an estimated 35% of children received the shots as of early November. Those figures are similar to years past, though the flu vaccine coverage for kids was slightly higher in November 2020.
The results of a study released in June by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, showed that adult flu vaccination rates have declined in states where COVID-19 vaccination rates are also low. Raddatz pointed to that study and asked Jha, "Are you concerned that the controversy and hesitancy over COVID vaccines is carrying over to flu vaccines?"
Jha responded by citing the overall effectiveness of both the COVID-19 and flu vaccinations, making the additional point that many people choose to protect themselves in this way "when they hear it from trusted voices."
"Our strategy is get out into the community, talk to religious leaders, talk to civil society leaders, community-based organizations, have them get out to the community and talk to people, Jha said.
He also emphasized that the updated COVID-19 booster provides protection from a new subvariant of omicron, which has been rapidly spreading across Massachusetts and, according to experts, accounts for nearly 40% of the current cases there.
Raddatz turned to the so-called "tripledemic" this season, with COVID-19 and the flu circulating and now with high numbers of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in children across the country. Health experts have said RSV is emerging earlier and affecting more kids than typical because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ABC News previously reported.
"We're seeing hospitals getting close to capacity. What should parents do in particular?" Raddatz asked.
Jha recommended that every family member, no matter their age, get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu as a first step. "That takes those two and takes them off the table in terms of causing serious illness," he said.
"RSV, for most people, [is] not a big deal. It's very mild. For the elderly, and for the youngest kids, it can be a problem," he said, recommending "basic respiratory hygiene" such as "avoiding sick contacts ... washing your hands, cleaning surfaces."
But "one bit of good news just in the last week, we've seen RSV peaked and maybe turn down," he continued. "I'm obviously hopeful that that trend is going to continue." Compared to government data collected in the previous year, however, cases are up significantly.
"And what about this shortage of amoxicillin and even ibuprofen in some places?" Raddatz asked of a months-long national shortage facing parents who are scouring drugstore shelves for children's medicine. "What do they do about that?"
"We have broader supply chain issues with our medications that we've had for decades," Jha said, describing the problems as commonplace. "I often, when I walk into the hospital, find some normal medicine that I'm used to using not available," he said.
Raddatz also touched on recent protests in China amid its "zero COVID" policy, which includes strict lockdown measures and other rules.
Of the country's approach to controlling infections and deaths, which differs sharply from the U.S., Raddatz asked Jha: "When you look at what they're doing, is that effective?"
"We don't think that's realistic, certainly not realistic for the American people," Jha responded.
"I think it's going to be very, very difficult for China to be able to contain this through their 'zero COVID' strategy," he said. "I would recommend that they pursue the strategy of making sure everybody gets vaccinated, particularly their elderly."