Boosters would prevent 'essentially every COVID death,' White House official says

Dr. Ashish Jha warned Americans to get updated COVID vaccine ahead of winter.

November 22, 2022, 4:52 PM

As the winter holidays draw near, Dr. Anthony Fauci stood at the White House briefing podium one last time on Tuesday to give Americans health advice as he prepares to leave government after 50 years.

Get boosted, Fauci said, and if you're not vaccinated yet, get vaccinated. That was his message as he appeared with White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha.

It's advice he's given hundreds of times, from that same podium and other forums, as the pandemic stretches on. Fauci plans to step away from his role at the National Institute of Health and as White House chief medical advisor at the end of the year.

But as the country faces its third Thanksgiving with COVID-19, Fauci said the country was inching closer to an "equilibrium" with the pandemic.

"The message that Dr. Jha and I are getting to you today is we can make that happen much sooner by vaccinating and by keeping updated on your booster. It's just really as simple as that," Fauci said.

For the holidays, Fauci said there's "multiple actions" people can take to protect themselves -- including masking and testing beforehand.

A younger person may choose to wear a mask if they have an immunocompromised or elderly relative at the table, Fauci said. He also said not to underestimate testing, and that it "makes sense that you might want to get a test that day before" any gatherings.

"Now, we're not talking about requirements or mandating," he said. "We're talking about if you are in a situation and each individual person evaluates their own risk and that in the risk of their family member."

PHOTO: Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical advisor, speaks alongside COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha during a briefing on COVID-19 at the White House, Nov. 22, 2022.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical advisor, speaks alongside COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha during a briefing on COVID-19 at the White House, Nov. 22, 2022.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Jha went so far as to suggest that if everyone followed the recommended vaccine and treatment course, they could "prevent nearly every death in America from COVID."

"If folks get their updated vaccines and they get treated if they have a breakthrough infection, we can prevent essentially every COVID death in America," he said. "That is a remarkable fact."

Jha detailed a six-week long campaign to drive up booster awareness and hopefully increase vaccination coverage, particularly among seniors. The White House will invest nearly half a billion dollars in efforts to expand vaccination efforts at community health centers as well as organizations that work with older people and people with disabilities.

Americans can also expect to see more outreach, as the administration launches a media campaign targeting people over 50 with ads called "Can't Wait."

Though Jha had been urging Americans to get their updated booster shots by Halloween in order to get strong protection going into Thanksgiving and Christmas, he said that there was still plenty of benefit in getting the shot now.

The campaign comes as booster uptake has been slow -- only about 11% of people aged 5 and older have received a bivalent booster, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and though rates have slightly ticked up as the weather has gotten colder, the rollout has not.

"It's certainly not too late, if you think about the holidays that are coming," Jha said. Though if takes about two weeks to get the maximum effect of the booster shot, Jha also said that some protection kicked in "relatively quickly."

"People who get vaccinated this week, they will have a lot of protection during December, January, February, onwards, the time that we socialize the most." Jha said.

ABC News' Alexandra Hutzler contributed to this report.