Biden Urges Docs to ‘Reach Out’ to Unvaccinated Patients About a COVID Shot

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WASHINGTON — President Biden on Thursday announced a six-point plan for battling the COVID-19 pandemic and appealed directly to physicians for help in getting more Americans vaccinated.

“To the nation’s family physicians, pediatricians, and general practitioners: you’re the most trusted medical voice to your patients,” Biden said in an address in the White House State Dining Room. “You may be the one person who gets someone to change their mind about being vaccinated. Tonight, I’m asking each of you to reach out to your unvaccinated patients over the next 2 weeks, and make a personal appeal to them to get the shot. America needs your personal involvement in this critical effort.”

Biden also appealed to the 80 million Americans not yet vaccinated despite being eligible. “What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?” he said. “We’ve made vaccinations free, safe, and convenient. The vaccine is FDA-approved. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us. So please do the right thing.”

The six-point plan Biden announced includes the following measures:

Vaccinate the unvaccinated. The Department of Labor has developed an emergency temporary standard to require all businesses with 100 or more employees to require that their employees either be vaccinated or be tested for COVID at least once a week, Biden said. Businesses that fail to comply will face fines of up to $14,000, a senior administration official said on a phone call with reporters. Those employers also must give employees paid time off to get the vaccine.

The president also will sign an executive order requiring all workers in healthcare settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement to be vaccinated. The order includes hospitals, dialysis facilities, home healthcare, and most other healthcare settings; in all, the orders will cover more than 17 million healthcare workers. “If you’re seeking care at a health facility, you should be able to know that the people treating you are vaccinated — simple, straightforward, period,” Biden said.

In addition, two other executive orders require all federal executive branch employees to be vaccinated, as well as employees of federal contractors. “If you want to work with the federal government, to do business with us, get vaccinated,” Biden said, adding that more than 100 million workers — about two-thirds of the American workforce — in total will be covered by these various orders and regulations.

Asked by MedPage Today at the press briefing why there aren’t more efforts to deliver COVID vaccines to physician offices, the senior administration official said that vaccines were available in “tens of thousands” of doctors’ offices and clinics. “That number continues to grow, and you’re right to point it out because doctors are important, trusted messengers that people look to for advice on the vaccine, and the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. We encourage those who still have questions … to consult with their primary care physicians, their family doctors.”

Protect the vaccinated. This prong of the plan focuses on getting people booster shots. “Last month the nation’s top health officials at HHS [the Department of Health and Human Services] released an initial plan for booster shots, pending a thorough review from the FDA and the recommendations from CDC’s panel of outside experts,” the official said. “FDA and CDC will decide when and to whom boosters should be given, but we know doing the work now to prepare is essential.”

Keep children safe and schools open. “The best thing parents can do right now to protect young kids is to get vaccinated themselves,” and to get their children 12 and older vaccinated, the official said. “Today about 90% of school staff and teachers are vaccinated; we need to get that to 100%. Educators and their unions overwhelmingly support vaccination requirements, and where the federal government can implement vaccine requirements for teachers and school staff, we will.” For instance, the Department of Interior, which operates elementary and secondary schools for American Indian and Alaska Native children in 23 states, announced that teachers and staff at its schools would need to be vaccinated, “and the Department of Defense is doing the same for its teachers, childcare, and youth program personnel,” he said. Head Start educators also will need to be vaccinated, he added.

Biden also appeared to aim one comment at governors such as Ron DeSantis (R) of Florida, who has blocked mask mandates and other mandatory preventive measures from taking effect in some of his state’s schools. “My plan also takes on elected officials and states that are undermining you and these lifesaving actions,” the president said. “Right now, local school officials are trying to keep children safe in a pandemic, while their governor picks a fight, and even threatens their salaries or their jobs. Talk about bullying in schools.”

“If these governors won’t help us beat the pandemic, I’ll use my power as president and get them out of the way,” Biden said. “The Department of Education has already begun to take legal action against states undermining protections that local school officials have ordered. Any teacher or school official whose pay is withheld for doing the right thing, we will have that pay restored by the federal government 100%. I promise you, I will have your back.”

Increase testing and masking. Biden will use the Defense Production Act “to accelerate the production of rapid tests, including at-home tests,” the official said. The government “will purchase $2 billion worth of rapid, point-of-care and over-the-counter at-home COVID tests — a total of 280 million tests.” The administration also “will expand the reach of the existing free pharmacy testing program to 10,000 local pharmacies around the country, and we will send 25 million free, at-home rapid tests to 1,400 community health centers and hundreds of food banks.” Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger will also sell at-home rapid test kits at cost for the next 3 months, “so Americans will see a discount of up to 35% on these tests,” he said.

On the masking front, “I’m announcing that the Transportation Safety Administration will double the fines on travelers that refuse to mask,” said Biden, who has already instituted mask requirements in federal buildings and on airplanes. “If you break the rules, be prepared to pay. And by the way, show some respect. The anger you see on television toward flight attendants and others doing their job is wrong; it’s ugly.”

Protect the economic recovery. To help businesses hurt by the pandemic, “we’ll be expanding COVID-19 economic injury disaster loan programs,” the president said. “That program is going to allow small businesses to borrow up to $2 million — [up] from the current $500,000 — to keep going if COVID-19 impacts on their sales. These low-interest, long- term loans require no repayment for 2 years, and can be used to hire and retain workers, purchase inventory, or even pay down higher-cost debt racked up since the pandemic began.”

Improve care for COVID-19 patients. The federal government has already deployed “surge response teams” from various government agencies, and Biden noted that “the Defense Department will double the number of military health teams that they’ll deploy to help their fellow Americans at hospitals around the country. Additionally, we’re increasing the availability of new medicines recommended by real doctors — not conspiracy theorists — monoclonal antibody treatments that have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization up to 70% for unvaccinated people at risk of developing severe disease. We’ve already distributed 1.4 million courses of these treatments to save lives and reduce the strain on hospitals. Tonight, I’m announcing [that we] will increase the average pace of shipment across the country of free monoclonal antibody treatments by another 50%.”

Biden closed his speech with a familiar refrain. “We have the tools. Now we just have to finish the job with truth, with science, with confidence,” he said. “And together, as one nation — look, we’re the United States of America. There’s nothing, not a single thing, we’re unable to do if we do it together. So let’s stay together.”

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    Joyce Frieden oversees MedPage Today’s Washington coverage, including stories about Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, healthcare trade associations, and federal agencies. She has 35 years of experience covering health policy. Follow

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