Remarks to National Institutes of Health Staff in Bethesda, Maryland
Good afternoon, folks.
I had a little discussion with my friends behind me, Dr. Collins and Dr. Fauci, about whether or not I should take my mask off. And the truth is, although we're more than 10 feet away, I think it's important that I not. It's critically important the message—and I realize I'm speaking to a vast majority—at least, I hope I am—of the folks out here at NIH. You know that wearing this mask through the next year here can save lives, a significant numbers of lives. And so I apologize if you don't hear me as clearly as you—maybe you should.
I'd like to start off by thanking Dr. Collins and Dr. Fauci for hosting me today. I spent a lot of time working with Dr. Collins on the Cancer Institute matters. And I said he's the first person I called to ask if he'd stay. But then, I was reminded: I called Dr. Fauci before I got elected and said, "Would you stay if I came?" [Laughter] So thank you both for staying.
Our Nation is fortunate to have both of you in this—in these critical roles. And that goes for the world-class doctors, scientists, researchers here at the NIH. And I just toured the Vaccine Research Center with Dr. Collins and Dr. Fauci and Dr. Graham and Dr. Corbett. It's incredible. It's a place to go where you—our top minds spend years researching vaccines and treatments for all kinds of viruses, and partnering with academia and industry to prepare for the next one, because there will be others: HIV, influenza, SARS, MERS, West Nile, Zika, Ebola, and today, COVID-19.
To all—to all of you, your work made possible the remarkably rapid development of COVID—19 vaccines we have today. It's incredible. Initially, people were talking years, if not decades, before we'd have a vaccine.
On behalf of a grateful nation—and I don't say that lightly—on behalf of a grateful nation, I want to thank you and your families for your work and your sacrifice, for there is no doubt your families sacrificed a great deal for the endless hours you put in to save the rest of us. And I know it wasn't easy.
The devastation of this pandemic—the loss of life and livelihoods—hasn't spared the scientific community: labs closed, research delayed, careers disrupted, especially for those in training. Yet, with every moment of despair in this past year, you and all the heroes and heroines on the frontlines of the—and the frontiers of this pandemic remind us who we are.
We are America. We never give up. We never give in. We give back, and we follow the science and find the answers. That's what all of you do here. That's what we've seen all across the country.
The scientific community repurposed labs to work on COVID-19, develop therapeutics, new diagnostics technologies, and vaccines in record time. And you're highlighting lessons learned on the importance of pandemic preparedness, public-private partnerships, real-time data-sharing, and most of all, speed and efficiency without compromising science and good conscience.
Look, you're an incredible group of people. I've been out here many times trying to help—trying to help my son who passed away with cancer. You're an incredible, incredible group of people. And that's not hyperbole. We still—what we know is, we still have a long way to go. It's no secret that the vaccination program was in much worse shape than my team and I anticipated. We were under the impression, I'm told, that we had a lot more resources than we did when we came into office. We've only been here 3 weeks, but we've learned a great deal in those 3 weeks.
While scientists did their job in discovering vaccines in record time, my predecessor—I'll be very blunt about it—did not do his job in getting ready for the massive challenge of vaccinating hundreds of millions of Americans. He didn't order enough vaccines. He didn't mobilize enough people to administer the shots. He didn't set up the Federal vaccine centers where eligible people could go and get their shots.
When I became President 3 weeks ago, America had no plan to vaccinate most of the country. It was a big mess. It's going to take time to fix, to be blunt with you. I promised, when I did my Inaugural Address, that I'd always be straight with you, give it to you straight from the shoulder: I will not walk away when we make a mistake; I'll acknowledge it and tell you the truth. We started on day one. We won't have everything fixed for a while, but we're going to fix it.
First, the vaccine. I know people want confidence that it's safe. Well, listen to Dr. Fauci. I did. I got my shots. My wife Jill did. Kamala did, and her husband Doug did. So Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins got it also. It's safe. And we need more people to get vaccinated to beat this pandemic.
That's why, in the first 3 weeks that I've been in office, we've increased the supply of weekly vaccine shipments to the States by almost 30 percent. That means millions more Americans will get vaccinated in February than the previous administration was on track to do.
But that's just the start. We bought more vaccines. Two weeks ago, I directed Jeff Zients, who's here with me—my COVID-19 Response Coordinator—to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to purchase more vaccines. Just this afternoon we signed the final contracts for 100 million more Moderna and 100 million more Pfizer vaccines. And we're also able to move up the delivery dates with an additional 200 million vaccines to the end of July, faster than we expected.
And in further good news, both companies agreed—and we're now contractually obligated—to expedite delivery of 100 million doses, that were promised by the end of June, to deliver them by the end of May. That's a month faster. That means lives will be saved.
That means we're now on track to have enough supply for 300 million Americans by the end of July. It may not sound like the urgent progress we need, but let's be clear: When I took office, just 3 weeks ago, this country did not have a plan or enough vaccines or people to vaccinate Americans—any—all Americans, at any time, in any point in 2021.
Within 3 weeks, round-the-clock work with so many people—people standing behind me and in front of me—we've now purchased enough vaccine supply to vaccinate all Americans. And now we're working to get those vaccines into the arms of millions of people.
In just 3 weeks, you deployed over 1,000 Federal staff to vaccination sites around the country. We're helping give shots and set up and speed up vaccination operations. To date, we've also provided $3 billion to 37 States and Territories and Tribes to bolster existing vaccination centers and create more of the centers to administer—where we administer the vaccine.
For example, 3 days ago, Vice President Harris and I, we had a virtual tour of a federally supported vaccine center in a parking lot of the Arizona Cardinal stadium in Glendale, Arizona. It's open 24/7.
Folks who are eligible can call by phone or sign up online for an appointment. They literally drive in, stay in their cars, get a shot, get a card, and schedule the next shot. On average, it's about 30 minutes from start to finish. In just 3 weeks, the site has administered 160,000 doses, now averaging 8,000 vaccinations through the day and night. Look, it's coordination between State and Federal Government, and the private sector partnership is essential.
One of the nurses coordinating the effort in Arizona said the work was like administering—and I love this phrase, Doc—she said, "like administering a dose of hope." Like administering a dose of hope. Let me say that: a dose of hope. We're going to get those doses of hope out at new and large-scale vaccination centers that were set up by the Federal Government.
During the Super Bowl, we got a call from the NFL. The commissioner of football, Goodell, said we could have access to all 30 of the NFL stadiums for mass vaccination sites. We just announced we've worked with the Governors to set up these new federally run sites in California, New York, Texas, with many more to come.
We're going to target communities that have been the hardest hit, and it will be staffed by our military; the Federal Emergency Management Association [Agency]*—FEMA—same people who respond to hurricanes and storms, and the like; and other Federal experts at the Department of Health and Human Services; and the Department of Agriculture to get vaccinators to make sure it gets in people's arms.
When I got to office, there was no Federal plan—none—to ship vaccines directly to local pharmacies. So folks who are allowed to get vaccination under the State rules, as the allocation of who gets in line, are allowed to get one, can schedule an appointment now and get COVID-19 vaccine shots like they would a flu shot from their pharmacy. And we'll start today—that program.
And for folks who can't get to a pharmacy, we're deploying mobile units and sending vaccination—vaccines to community health centers—federally run community health centers—to take care of the poorest of the poor, that reach the hardest hit in those underserved areas in the country—Black, Latino, Native American, and rural communities. This is an important piece to ensure racial equity remains at the center of our COVID—19 response, which is something, I know, Dr. Collins and Dr. Fauci are focused on as well.
Another point of progress is, we're deploying more vaccinators. We're now allowing retired doctors and nurses to come back and administer shots. We're deploying Federal vaccinators, and over the last 3 weeks, we put hundreds of new vaccinators in the field and are lining up thousands more. These include medical personnel from our Commissioned Corps at the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as personnel from FEMA, the Defense Department, and more departments to come.
All told, we're on track to surpass the goal I set on day one. When I was sworn in, I indicated—just before I was sworn in, I indicated that my hope was to administer 100 million shots in the first 100 days of our term. I believe we'll not only reach that, but we'll break that.
But like I said before, that's just the floor. That's just the floor. Our end goal is beating COVID-19. Which brings us to the challenge that remains.
We remain in the teeth of this pandemic. January of 2021 was the deadliest month we've had. We lost over 100,000—100,000—of our fellow citizens. We're on track to cross 500,000 dead Americans this next month. The new strains emerging create immense challenges, and masking is still the easiest thing to do to save lives. But we need everyone to mask up.
And by the way, I know it's a pain in the neck, but it's a patriotic responsibility. We're in the middle of a war with this virus. It's a patriotic responsibility, not only if you care about your family, if you care about your fellow Americans. You realize more people have died in the last 12 months than died in all 4 years in World War II? All 4 years.
That's why I asked what the full extent of my authority as President of the United States could be. I signed an Executive order that required masking on all Federal property, on modes of travel like planes, trains, and buses across interstate commerce. And I've been calling on Governors—Republican and Democrat—and mayors—Republican and Democrat—and local officials to institute mask mandates within their jurisdictions. We need everyone to do their part for themselves, for their loved ones, and yes, for their country.
Mask up, America. Mask up.
And to really get ahead of this pandemic instead of chasing it, we need Congress to pass my American Rescue Plan. And I'm grateful that the Senate and the House are moving quickly. And my hope is that we'll get Republicans, as well as Democrats, to support us.
But we can't wait. People are dying every minute from this pandemic. And we're suffering a profound economic crisis that the pandemic has created. Every major economist in the country—left, right, and center—says we can't go big enough here. And if we want to get our economy back in shape, we've got to move quickly.
How many of you out there don't have enough food to eat? How many of you out there are worried whether you can pay next month's rent or pay your mortgage? How many of you out there have a child at home because a school is not open and you have to make the difficult choice of staying home with your child or going to work if you have a job? This is not who we are. In the United States of America, we take care of our own.
And job number one of the American Rescue Plan is fighting the pandemic. It puts $160 billion into our national COVID strategy, which includes more money for testing and tracing, manufacturing and distribution, and setting up vaccination sites—everything that's needed to get vaccines into people's arms. The American Rescue Plan also includes $4 billion to build new manufacturing plants. So we are ready to manufacture vaccines we don't—and we don't have to wait.
You know, there's simply nothing more important than getting the resources we need to vaccinate people in this country as quickly as possible—as quickly as possible. We're not going to get our economy back in shape and millions of people back to work until we beat this virus.
As I said, everyone from Moody's on Wall Street to a whole range of other think tanks indicates that if we do this plan, we'll get to full employment within 2 years. We'll be in a situation where we actually grow the economy, creating millions of jobs immediately and put us in a position where we are going to have the GDP grow at a higher rate than under—if we don't do this.
We're in a national emergency. I want to close with this: We're in a national emergency. And this will be one of the most difficult operational challenges we have ever undertaken as a nation. It's going to take time. We're going to face setbacks along the way. And I promise you, when we do, I'll just own up to it and say what they are. But we have to stay vigilant. We have to stay focused.
And for God's sakes, we have to remember who we are: We are the United States of America. We can do this. We have the resources. We just have to choose to use them.
We have to do what all of you do here at NIH and across the scientific community: Keep the faith with purpose and vision and with every dose of hope we have. Folks, remember, like I said: This is America. We have never, never, never failed. We've decided to stand together and act together. That's who we are. That's not chauvinism; that's just a fact. We've never failed when we stood together. If there's ever a time we need to stand together, it's now.
May God bless you all, and may God bless everyone here at NIH—all the doctors, scientists, and researchers fighting this pandemic and saving lives. And may God protect our troops. Thank you very, very much. You're the best America has to offer here at NIH. Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
NOTE: The President spoke at 4:43 p.m. at the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory of the National Institute of Health. In his remarks, he referred to National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis S. Collins; National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony S. Fauci; Barney Graham, Deputy Director, and Kizzmekia S. Corbett, Senior Research Fellow and Scientific Lead for Coronavirus Vaccines and Immunopathogenesis Team, NIH's Vaccine Research Center; Douglas C. Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala D. Harris; Brittney Hayes, head charge nurse, Arizona State University's State Farm Stadium vaccination site in Glendale, AZ; Gov. Gavin C. Newsom of California; Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York; and Gov. Gregory W. Abbott of Texas.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks to National Institutes of Health Staff in Bethesda, Maryland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347985