President Joe Biden on Tuesday said the U.S. stands ready to rapidly deploy new vaccines in the event another Covid variant emerges, while reassuring Americans the U.S. is moving toward normalcy after two years of disruption caused by the virus.
“I cannot promise a new variant won’t come, but I can promise you we’ll do everything within our power to be ready if it does,” Biden said during his first State of the Union speech Tuesday evening. “If necessary, we’ll be able to deploy new vaccines within 100 days instead of many more months or years,” the president said.
The omicron variant upended the U.S. in December and January, rapidly sweeping the nation and causing an unprecedented surge of infections that pushed many hospitals across the country to the brink. Pfizer and Moderna are both working on vaccines that target omicron.
However, Biden said the U.S. has reached a new moment in the pandemic, with severe cases of Covid declining to a level not seen since July. The president said most Americans can now go about their lives mask free under new guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week. Biden said more of the country will also meet CDC guidelines for safely ditching masks in the next two weeks.
The president sought to reassure Americans who are still working that they can safely return to the office. The majority of federal employees will work in person again, Biden said.
“With 75% of adult Americans fully vaccinated and hospitalizations down by 77%, most Americans can remove their masks, return to work, stay in the classroom, and move forward safely,” the president said.
People who get tested at a pharmacy and are positive for Covid will be able to receive antiviral pills on the spot at no cost, Biden said. The administration will launch hundreds of sites at CVS, Walgreens, and Kroger this month as well as community health centers, a White House official said. The president also said Americans can order more free Covid tests, at covidtests.gov, starting next week.
Biden also sought to reassure parents of children under 5-years-old that scientists are working diligently to authorize the Covid vaccine for their kids. He said the U.S. will have enough vaccines ready when the authorization does come through. Children under 5 are the only age group left in the U.S. that is not eligible for the vaccine.
The Food and Drug Administration had sought to rapidly approve the first-two doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine for children six months to 4-years-old last month. However, the FDA delayed those plans because the data didn’t meet expectations. The drug regulator is now waiting for data on Pfizer’s third dose, which is expected in April.