US President Joe Biden receives the latest Covid-19 booster shot in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, in Washington, DC, on October 25, 2022. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
CNN  — 

President Joe Biden rolled up his sleeve and received his updated Covid-19 booster vaccine in front of cameras on Tuesday, urging all eligible Americans to do the same and pressing Congress to provide more pandemic response funding as the nation heads toward a potential winter case surge.

Flanked at the White House by his Covid-19 team and the CEOs of several national pharmacy chains, Biden said the updated booster is “incredibly effective, but the truth is not enough people are getting it. We’ve got to change that so we can all have a safe and healthy holiday season.”

The booster Biden received from a member of the White House Medical Unit offered another opportunity to promote the shot as his administration continues to grapple with the political challenges and public health hurdles posed by a slow uptake nationwide. CNN first reported on Tuesday that the Department of Health and Human Services is also debuting new ads aimed at increasing booster uptake.

Biden’s vaccination took place a little less than two months before Congress’ mid-December deadline to continue funding the federal government – including federal Covid-19 efforts that the administration says Congress is already underfunding. It also comes two weeks before Election Day in the midterm races, a consequential election that could reset the political realities for any of the administration’s leftover ambitions to fund work related to the pandemic.

It has been more than three months since Biden contracted Covid-19, which is the amount of time the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people may consider waiting before getting boosted. The President last received his second Covid vaccine booster shot on March 30.

The bivalent boosters target the original coronavirus strain as well as the Omicron BA.4/BA.5 subvariants. The shots are available for people ages 5 and up, as long as they have completed all primary doses in their vaccine series.

On Tuesday, the President underscored that “this virus is constantly changing.” Biden pointed out “the weather is getting colder. People will spend more time indoors and contagious viruses like Covid are going to spread considerably more easily.” He said all eligible Americans should get the updated Covid-19 vaccine “just as soon as they can.”

Data released last week show an uptake of the updated booster started slow and has ramped up in recent weeks. As of last week, the administration said a total of approximately 20 million Americans, which is less than 10% of the eligible population, had received it. That slow uptake may be cause for concern as the country heads toward a possible winter surge of Covid cases as well as a possible rise in influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases.

If more people in the US get their booster by the end of the year, about 90,000 Covid-19 deaths could be prevented this fall and winter. But if booster vaccinations continue at their current pace, the nation could see a peak of more than 1,000 Covid-19 deaths per day this winter, according to the study, published earlier this month by The Commonwealth Fund.

“Your old vaccine or your previous Covid infection will not give you maximum protection. Let me be as plain as I can: We still have hundreds of people dying each day from Covid in this country. Hundreds. That number is likely to rise this winter,” Biden continued on Tuesday. “But this year is different from the past. This year, nearly every death is preventable. … So get your updated Covid shot. Now’s the time to do it.”

The President also called on Americans to get their flu shot, which can be administered alongside the bivalent booster.

Earlier Tuesday, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha warned that there could be “trouble” with child hospitalizations due to RSV and other viruses but said that doesn’t need to be the case if Americans get their flu shot and the updated booster.

“We’re seeing the rise of three viruses circulating at increasing levels: RSV, flu, influenza and Covid. The good news here is that we’re not powerless against this. For two of them, we have very high quality vaccines, both influenza and Covid, so the first and most important thing people can do is go out and get vaccinated, because that will keep people kids, adults, everybody out of the hospital at very high rates,” he said on CNN’s “New Day.”

He explained that the new coronavirus variants circulating are “incredibly immune evasive” but that he is “confident” the bivalent vaccine “will hold up.”

“Our vaccines should do a good job of holding up against this new subvariant. You know, where the virus goes – this has been a highly kind of unpredictable virus. We’ve seen it evolve over time. And the good news is that we have, as the virus changes, we’ve been able to keep up. So the new vaccines keep up. I suspect that there may be another vaccine next fall, but we’re getting into a tempo where, for the majority of people, it’s going to be a once a year updated vaccine,” Jha added.

Lack of Covid funding sparks warnings

The Biden administration has been pushing for months for additional funding for the nation’s Covid-19 response, but so far to no avail.

Congress passed a stopgap measure to fund the federal government through mid-December, but the legislation did not include funding related to coronavirus vaccines, testing or treatment requested by the White House.

In his remarks ahead of his vaccination on Tuesday, the President called out lawmakers for declining to support Covid-related funding.

Biden called on Congress to “step up” with the funding, which he said is “critical.”

“Help us stay ahead of the virus to keep our communities going strong with free vaccines, free tests and widely available treatments as we’ve done so far. Some of our friends in Congress say we don’t need Covid funding or they say there’s really no reason that the government should be paying for it. I strongly disagree,” he added.

Drugmaker Pfizer said last week that, as government contracts come to an end – possibly by early next year – its Covid-19 vaccine will be sold for $110 to $130 per dose.

And Jha also expressed concerns earlier this month that Congress has not provided enough Covid-related funding to prepare for the winter, saying the US doesn’t have an “adequate” number of Covid-19 tests with winter approaching.

“No doubt about it that our response has been hampered by that lack of funding,” he added.

Jha added at the time that, despite those resources, the Covid-19 vaccine campaign was still limited due to a lack of funding.

“So Congress bears a lot of responsibility for the complexities of the moment we find ourselves in. You can’t run any national response to a highly contagious and deadly virus without adequate funding from Congress,” he said.

On Tuesday at the White House, the President called on the country to “start fresh … to put all the old battles over Covid behind us, to put all the partisan politics aside.”

“We’ve already lost over one million Americans to Covid. We can do so much now to reduce the number of people who die from this terrible disease,” he added. “None of this is about politics. It’s about your health.”

Along with Biden’s personal public effort to advocate for more Americans to get their updated Covid-19 booster, this week HHS is debuting new ads targeting specific communities that have had a slow uptake of the updated shots.

“The new television ads airing today send an urgent message to communities at high-risk of severe illness from Covid that the updated vaccine is the best tool we have against hospitalization and death,” Sarah Lovenheim, HHS assistant secretary for public affairs, told CNN.

“These ads also reflect our commitment to equity in our Covid response and the need to redouble efforts to reach Black and Hispanic communities about the benefits of the updated vaccines,” she said. “We have seen Covid infections increase in prior winters, and it does not have to be that way this year. We now have updated Covid-19 vaccines to protect you against the Omicron strain.”

This story has been updated with further developments on Tuesday.

CNN’s Sam Fossum, Brenda Goodman, Betsy Klein, Jacqueline Howard and Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.