Joe Biden

Remarks on the COVID-19 Response and National Vaccination Efforts

August 18, 2021

Good afternoon. I'd like to make an important announcement today in our work to get every American vaccinated and protected from the Delta virus—the Delta variant of COVID-19.

I just got a lengthy briefing from my COVID team, and here's the latest data that confirms we're still in a pandemic of the unvaccinated. While we're starting to see initial signs that cases may be declining in a few places, cases are still rising, especially among the unvaccinated. There are still 85 million Americans who are eligible to get vaccinated who remain unvaccinated and at real risk.

Across the country, virtually all of the COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths continue to be among the unvaccinated. In Alabama, more than 90 percent of the current hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated. In Texas, 95 percent of those in hospitals are unvaccinated. Right now it's worse in States where overall vaccination rates are low.

But let me be clear: Even in States where the vaccination rate is high, the unvaccinated in those States are also at risk, and we're seeing cases rise as a result. Quite frankly, it's a tragedy. There are people who are dying and who will die who didn't have to. So please, if you haven't gotten vaccinated, do it now. Do it now. It could save your life, and it could save the lives of those you love.

You know, and the good news is that more people are getting vaccinated. Overall, weekly, new vaccinations are up more than 80 percent from where they were a month ago. While it can take up to 6 weeks to get fully protected after your first shot, this increased level of vaccination is going to provide results in the weeks ahead.

Just remember, we have two key—and two key ways of protecting ourselves against COVID-19: one: safe, free, and effective vaccines; and two, masks. Vaccines are the best defense, but masks are extremely helpful as well.

And for those who aren't eligible for the vaccine yet—children under the age of 12—masks are the best available protection for them and the adults around them. That's why we need to make sure children are wearing masks in school.

Before I talk about the news related to vaccines, let me say a few words about masks and our children. Unfortunately, as we've seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures—that is, children wearing masks in school—into political disputes for their own political gain. Some are even trying to take power away from local educators by banning masks in school. They're setting a dangerous tone.

For example, last week, at a school board meeting in Tennessee, protesters threatened doctors and nurses who were testifying, making the case for masking children in schools. The intimidation and the threats we're seeing across the country are wrong. They're unacceptable.

And I've said before, this isn't about politics. It's about keeping our children safe. This is about taking on the virus together, united. I've made it clear that I'll stand with those who are trying to do the right thing.

Last week, I called school superintendents in Florida and Arizona to thank them for doing the right thing and requiring masks in their schools. One of them said, "We teach science, so we follow the science." The other said they have a guiding principle: "Students first." I couldn't agree with more than—I just couldn't agree more with what they both said.

And that's why today I am directing the Secretary of Education—an educator himself—to take additional steps to protect our children. This includes using all of his oversights authorities and legal actions, if appropriate, against Governors who are trying to block and intimidate local school officials and educators.

And I've said—as I've said before, if you aren't going to fight COVID-19, at least get out of the way of everyone else who is trying. You know, we're not going to sit by as Governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children. For example, if a Governor wants to cut the pay of a hard-working education leader who requires masks in the classroom, the money from the American Rescue Plan can be used to pay that person's salary, 100 percent.

I'm going to say a lot more about children and schools next week. But as we head into the school year, remember this: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, says masks are critical, especially for those who are not yet vaccinated, like our children under the age of 12.

So let's put politics aside. Let's follow the educators and the scientists who know a lot more about how to teach our children and keep them safe than any politician. This administration is always going to take the side of our children.

Next, I want to talk to those who—of you who can get vaccinated, but you haven't. The Delta variant is twice as transmissible as the Alpha variant. It's dangerous, and it continues to spread. Vaccines are the key to stopping it, and we're making progress.

Today, more than 90 percent of seniors have at least had one shot, and 70 percent of people over the age 12 have gotten their first shot as well. That's good news, but we need to go faster.

That's why I'm taking steps on vaccination requirements where I can. Already, I've outlined vaccine requirements. We're going reach millions of Americans: Federal workers and contractors; medical staff caring for our veterans at VA hospitals; and our Active Duty military, Reservists, and National Guard.

Today I'm announcing a new step. If you work in a nursing home and serve people on Medicare or Medicaid, you will also be required to get vaccinated. More than 130,000 residents in nursing homes have—sadly, over the period of this virus—passed away.

At the same time, vaccination rates among nursing home staff significantly trail the rest of the country. The studies show that highly vaccinated nursing home staffs is associated with at least 30-percent less COVID-19 cases among long-term care residents.

With this announcement, I'm using the power of the Federal Government, as a payer of health care costs, to ensure we reduce those risks to our most vulnerable seniors. These steps are all about keeping people safe and out of harm's way.

If you walk into a Government office building, you should know that Federal workers are doing everything possible to keep you safe. If you're a veteran seeking care at a VA hospital, you should not be at a greater risk walking into the hospital than you were outside the hospital. And now, if you visit, live, or work in a nursing home, you should not be at a high risk for contracting COVID from unvaccinated employees.

While I'm mindful that my authority at the Federal level is limited, I'm going to continue to look for ways to keep people safe and increase vaccination rates.

And I'm pleased to see the private sector stepping up as well. In the last week, AT&T, Amtrak, McDonalds, they all announced vaccine requirements. I recently met with a group of business and education leaders—from United Airlines, to Kaiser Permanente, to Howard University—who are also doing the same thing.

Over 200 health systems, more than 50 in the past 2 weeks, have announced vaccine requirements. Colleges and universities are requiring more than 5 million students to be vaccinated as they return to classes this fall. All of this makes a difference.

The Wall Street Journal reported the share of job postings stating that new hires must be vaccinated has nearly doubled in the past month. Governors and mayors in California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Washington have all announced vaccination requirements.

So let's be clear: Vaccination requirements have been around for decades. Students, health care professionals, our troops are typically required to receive vaccines to prevent everything from polio to smallpox to measles to mumps to rubella.

In fact, the reason most people in America don't worry about polio, smallpox, measles, mumps, and rubella today is because of vaccines. It only makes sense to require a vaccine that stops the spread of COVID-19.

And it's time for others to step up. Employers have more power today to end this pandemic than they have ever had before. My message is simple: Do the right thing for your employees, consumers, and your businesses. Let's remember: The key tool to keeping our economy going strong is to get people vaccinated and at work.

I know that I'll have your back—they should know I'll have their back, as I have the back of the States trying to do the right thing as well. For example, yesterday I instructed the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, to extend full reimbursement through the end of the year to State developments—to State deployments of National Guard in support of COVID-19 response.

Nearly 18,000 National Guard members are supporting our response nationwide, from caring for patients, to administering vaccines, to running testing sites, to distributing supplies. As the States continue to recover from the economic toll left by COVID-19, the full reimbursement of National Guard services during this pandemic will be another tool that will help them shore up their budgets, meet the needs of their communities, and continue our economic recovery.

These are the latest steps we're taking to get more people vaccinated.

Next, I want to speak to you all—all of you who are vaccinated. How should you be thinking about the moment we're in? First, know that you're highly protected against severe illness and death from COVID-19. Only a small fraction of people going to the hospital today are those who have been vaccinated. But we have a responsibility to give the maximum amount of protection—all of you the maximum amount.

Earlier today our medical experts announced a plan for booster shots to every fully vaccinated American—adult American. You know, this shot will boost your immune response. It will increase your protection from COVID-19. And it's the best way to protect ourselves from new variants that could arise.

The plan is for every adult to get a booster shot 8 months after you got your second shot. Pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC's committee of outside experts, we'll be ready to start these booster—this booster program during the week of September 20, in which time anyone vaccinated on or before January 20 will be eligible to get a booster shot.

So that means that if you got your second shot on February 15, you're eligible to get your booster shot on October 15. If you got your second shot on March 15, go for your booster starting on November 15. And so on. Just remember, as a simple rule—rule: Eight months after your second shot, get a booster shot.

And these booster shots are free. We'd be able to get the booster shots at any one of the approximately 80,000 vaccination locations nationwide. It will be easy. Just show your vaccination card, and you'll get a booster. No other ID. No insurance. No State residency requirement.

My administration has been planning for this possibility and this scenario for months. We purchased enough vaccine and vaccine supplies so that when your 8-month mark comes up, you'll be ready to get your vaccination free—that booster shot free. And we have it available.

It will make you safer and for longer. And it will help us end the pandemic faster.

Now, I know there are some world leaders who say Americans shouldn't get a third shot until other countries got their first shot. I disagree. We can take care of America and help the world at the same time.

In June and July, America administered 50 million shots here in the United States, and we donated 100 million shots to other countries. That means that America has donated more vaccine to other countries than every other country in the world combined.

During the coming months of fall and early winter, we expect to give out another—about 100 thousand [million]* boosters, and the United States will donate more than 200 million additional doses to other countries. This will keep us on our way to meeting our pledge of more than 600 million vaccine donations—over half a billion. And I said—as I said before, we're going to be the arsenal of vaccines to beat this pandemic as we were the arsenal of democracy to win World War II.

So let me conclude with this: The threat of the Delta virus remains real. But we are prepared. We have the tools. We can do this. To all those of who are unvaccinated: Please get vaccinated for yourself and for your loved ones, your neighborhood and for your community.

And to the rest of America, this is no time to let our guard down. We just need to finish the job with science, with facts, and with confidence. And together, as the United States of America, we'll get this done.

God bless you all, and may God protect our troops. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:31 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Vickie Cartwright, interim superintendent, Broward County, FL, schools; and Chad E. Gestson, superintendent, Phoenix Union High School District in Arizona.

* White House correction.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on the COVID-19 Response and National Vaccination Efforts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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