“Of all the things going on, most people don’t perceive this to be the problem that it probably is,” he said.
The president’s stance could backfire if the virus’s latest surge continues to build, evading the vaccines and making more people seriously ill. Should that happen, it could look like a repeat of last summer, when the president declared “independence” from the virus ahead of the July 4 holiday, only to see massive waves of illness and death once the Delta and Omicron variants hit.
Experts say that administration officials—including the president—should also be doing a better job of preparing the public for a reinvigorated virus in the fall and winter, when people spend more time indoors. If people become complacent now, they say, forgoing booster doses or failing to vaccinate their children, they could pay a price then.
“The attitude is, ‘We’ve got this, we’re over it.’” said Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research in San Diego. “People should be gearing up, they should be getting booster shots. But there is no awareness.”
If the pandemic appears to be a lesser concern, experts argue, that also makes it harder for the White House to make the case that it needs tens of billions in new funding from Congress to replenish its supply of tests, treatments and vaccines in time for the fall. The administration has said it wants to launch a booster campaign at that point, hopefully with vaccines retooled to work better against the latest version of the virus.
At the White House briefing, Dr. Ashish Jha, the new White House coordinator of the pandemic response, warned that if Congress fails to grant the administration’s request for $22 billion in new Covid funding, Americans will suffer come the fall.
He did not repeat an earlier administration claim that the nation could face 100 million infections next fall and winter. Instead, he said that projections from biostatisticians vary greatly depending on estimates of how much of the population has developed immunity and other complex factors.