The new vaccine campaign is one of the country’s last remaining strategies, as masks have fallen away and quarantines have diminished. So far, the rollout is methodical but muted.
It was vaccination time at Ethel Brown’s long-term care home in the Bronx. Again. Ms. Brown, 95, had already gotten four Covid shots, and while she was happy to submit to a fifth, this latest booster prompted a few questions.
“Why are we getting another one?” Ms. Brown asked, as she and other residents waited for their shots on Wednesday. “Will this be the last booster shot?”
With a jumble of confusion, eagerness and vaccine fatigue, America embarked in earnest last week on a sprawling new campaign to get Omicron-specific boosters into the arms of a pandemic-weary country.
The new boosters are one of the last remaining weapons in America’s arsenal against the coronavirus, now that the country has scrapped most requirements to mask, quarantine or distance as the smoldering pandemic has faded into the background for many. The push for a new vaccine — barely noticed so far by some people — will test how the country responds at a time when the sense of crisis over Covid has abated.
Millions of doses of boosters targeting the hyper-contagious Omicron variant arrived with little ceremony at pharmacies, nursing homes and clinics across the country, ready to be administered in what health officials now expect to become a yearly inoculation ritual akin to a flu shot.
Early numbers from states and several cities showed what health officials described as a robust early response in a moment when vaccine rates have stagnated. California administered about 397,000 doses. About 116,000 people in Texas got the new booster in a span of a few days. Illinois administered at least 137,900 shots.
The rollout felt methodical but muted compared with the frenzied urgency of earlier waves of vaccinations, when thousands of people jockeyed outside stadiums for scarce doses and politicians got their shots on live television. It was a picture that came into focus in interviews with more than 50 health officials and Americans getting (or refusing) the booster across five states.
This time, the campaign was so understated that some Americans willing to get boosted did not even realize a new shot was available.
“I hadn’t heard,” said Jeff Conrad, 33, a custodian in central Washington State who still regularly wears a mask.
To people who got boosted last week, worried their immunity was waning, the new shots could not come soon enough.
“I don’t care what other people do, but I have to take precautions,” said Mario Reyes, 67, who got a flu shot and an Omicron booster — one in each arm — at a senior center on the Northwest Side of Chicago. Mr. Reyes recently had a heart transplant and lost a nephew to Covid, and said getting boosted again was a no-brainer.
Health officials called the early response encouraging, especially since the overall pace of vaccination had recently fallen to its lowest level since the shots became widely available in early 2021. About 68 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated with the original shots, but only one-third have gotten any booster shot even though earlier boosters first became available in September 2021.
The new boosters, which were authorized by the Food and Drug Administration in August, are called bivalent vaccines because they are tailored to protect against Omicron subvariants now circulating as well as the original version of the virus. People 12 and older are eligible for a new shot at least two months after their most recent vaccine or booster dose.