President Joe Biden’s mass coronavirus vaccination effort has taken a blow after breakthrough infections were discovered at the White House and within House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. President Joe Biden walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, as he heads to Cincinnati to push his economic policies. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh/AP

White House vaccination effort faces fresh test of breakthrough infections

Naomi Lim July 22, 07:00 AM July 22, 07:00 AM

President Joe Biden’s mass coronavirus vaccination effort has taken a blow after breakthrough infections were discovered at the White House and within House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.

As the delta variant spreads nationwide, Biden is still short of administering at least one COVID-19 shot to 70% of adults, a July 4 target he set for himself in May. The more dangerous and contagious version of the virus is behind the spike in cases and caused a stock market dip.

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Biden’s uphill battle to convince people to receive a dose depends on how effectively anti-vaccine groups can “exploit fear and misunderstanding” about COVID-19 breakthrough infections, according to Claremont McKenna College politics professor John Pitney.

“There is no doubt that people are better off vaccinated. But these groups will try to create the false impression that people should not bother getting shots because they don’t work anyway,” the Politics of Autism author told the Washington Examiner.

The former Republican operative added, “Public officials and pro-vaccine groups need to anticipate this line of attack and drive home the point that breakthrough cases make vaccination even more important.”

Almost two-thirds of the eligible population over 12 years old have received one dose, compared to 68% of adults older than 18. Yet, of the more than 159 million people who are fully immunized, roughly 5,500 have been hospitalized or died due to COVID-19 complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

White House and Pelosi aides are among those who have displayed mild COVID-19 symptoms despite being inoculated. The outbreak has been linked to the runaway Texas Democratic lawmakers, who fled to Washington, D.C., to avoid votes on Republican election bills.

Press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed this week there had been other COVID-19 breakthrough infections at the White House. They had not been disclosed because the staffers were not “commissioned officers” or personnel who report directly to Biden.

“Not to stoke fear” is her team’s messaging aim, she told reporters.

“We’ve seen that statistically across the country, with 99.5% of cases in hospitals being for individuals who are not vaccinated,” she said. “Our objective here is also to communicate clearly that if you are vaccinated, you are protected. If you get a case of COVID, it will be mild.”

Rather than cherry-picking facts, Bipartisan Policy Center chief medical adviser Anand Parekh urged the White House to consider how it wanted to frame these breakthrough infections.

“Not only are they rare, in most cases, they are mild in nature,” he said. “The messaging is critical here because if we don’t put these breakthrough infections into context accurately, the message could easily be misconstrued by some Americans who may start to question the necessity of a vaccine.”

For Glen Nowak, director of the University of Georgia Center for Health and Risk Communication, the shots should be promoted as a means to “slow down these mutations and changes.” But the former CDC spokesman warned the term “breakthrough cases” could be politicized, similar to “vaccine passport.”

“‘Breakthrough.’ That term to most laypeople carries this notion that this is a hugely significant outcome and, if it’s significant, it must be a problem. That’s unfortunate because, again, the data shows just the opposite,” he said.

The rise of the delta variant led Los Angeles County last weekend to become the first major metropolis to reinstate a mask mandate. The following day, the stock market crashed as almost 85% of the COVID-19 outbreak nationwide was linked to the mutant strain that first emerged in India.

Republicans and media outlets such as Fox News have become more vocal about COVID-19 jabs. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise rolled up his sleeve last weekend to get the shot, and prime-time anchor Sean Hannity implored his viewers to take the virus “seriously” this week.

Psaki revealed this week the White House had spoken with Fox News about its coronavirus coverage because it understood “the importance of reaching Fox’s audience.” Although hesitancy has halved from 22% in January to 11% between June 23 and July 5, Republican-leaning states Alaska, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming are among the most reluctant, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The other lag group is young people.

Former President Donald Trump is one Republican not helping Biden. Trump did encourage this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference to “get your shot” after he discreetly received his dose before he left office. Yet, he mocked Biden this weekend for being “way behind schedule” on vaccinations.

Biden’s challenge is that vaccine hesitancy is hardening. Most unimmunized respondents told Yahoo News/YouGov pollsters this month they would never elect to become inoculated. Approximately one-fifth were not sure, and the same percentage said they were prepared to wait “to see what happens to others before deciding.”

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Biden’s attempts to increase vaccination rates have been hamstrung by politics. Two days after his self-imposed July 4 deadline, Biden announced his task force would go “community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, and oftentimes, door to door.”

Republicans blasted the approach for being overly invasive.

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