HHS extends COVID-19 public health emergency into 2023

Administration pushes for vaccines and boosters for the fall.

The nation’s COVID-19 public health emergency will continue into 2023.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declared the continuation for 90 days to Jan. 11, 2023.

The declaration came less than a month after President Joe Biden said the pandemic was over in a Sept. 18 interview on the CBS News show “60 Minutes.” The remarks prompted a round of new national debate among public health experts and news commentators, and on Sept. 21 Biden noted criticism about the remarks.

“But it basically is not where it was,” the president said about the pandemic, during a visit to New York.

HHS has stated there would be at least 60 days’ notice before the PHE ends.

Medical groups generally supported previous extensions of the PHE, not least for the flexibilities and waivers that have enabled broader access to telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries and pay to physicians offering those services.

The administration has encouraged people to get another COVID-19 vaccine in the fall, though it’s clear many people are ready to put the pandemic behind them.

This week, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration announced the authorization of the Moderna bivalent vaccine for use as a booster dose for children down to age 6 and the Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent vaccine for boosters for children down to age 5.

On Oct. 7, HHS announced a report that the administration’s vaccination campaign led to more than 90% of seniors fully vaccinated and more than 70% of seniors with a booster shot. That led to more than 650,000 fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations and more than 300,000 fewer deaths among seniors and other Americans enrolled in Medicare.

"This report reaffirms what we have said all along: COVID-19 vaccines save lives and prevent hospitalizations," Becerra said in a news release. "We now have updated COVID vaccines designed to protect you against the Omicron strain of COVID that makes up almost all COVID cases in the U.S. The Biden-Harris Administration has ensured that updated vaccines are available at tens of thousands of locations nationwide. Over 90 percent of Americans live within 5 miles of where they can access these vaccines for free. I urge everyone eligible to get an updated COVID vaccine to protect yourself ahead of the fall and winter."

Depending on the success of another vaccination campaign, the inoculations could prevent up to 90,000 deaths and more than 936,000 hospitalizations, according to a September report by The Commonwealth Fund. That best-case scenario would avert $56 million in direct medical costs over the next six months starting in September, that report said.

Last month, Sen. Roger “Doc” Marshall, MD, R-Kansas, introduced a resolution that would end the national emergency first declared by President Donald J. Trump effective March 13, 2020. President Joe Biden extended the national emergency in February 2021 and in February this year.

“The American people are fatigued and yearning to operate outside of the confines of supersized government; they long for their God-given freedoms, and for leaders to take their side,” said Marshall, who made his career as an obstetrician-gynecologist before serving in public office. “In March the U.S. Senate voted for my Resolution to repeal this emergency declaration and delivered a symbolic victory that limited government and our constitutional rights still reign supreme.”