Photo of Joe Biden

Remarks on the COVID-19 Response and National Vaccination Efforts and an Exchange With Reporters

July 29, 2021

The President. Good afternoon. Today I want to talk with you about COVID-19.

Maybe the best way to start is: In a significant part of the country, you wouldn't have to take one of these off because you don't have to put one on, like in my home State of Delaware, where I lived in New Castle County, where I was yesterday in Pennsylvania, because people got vaccinated. They got vaccinated. They don't need a mask when you—the majority—the vast majority of people got vaccinated.

Now, look, I want to talk about what's really happening: what it means, what it doesn't mean, and what we need to do this week and the months ahead.

From the moment I was elected, I said I'd always give it to you straight from the shoulder, and we need some straight talk right now. Because there's a lot of fear and misinformation in the country, and we need to cut through it with facts, with science, with the truth.

So what's really happening today? After months and months of cases going down, we're seeing a spike in COVID cases. They're going up. Why? Because of this new form, this new variant called the "Delta variant." This is a much different variant than the one we dealt with previously. It's highly transmissible, and it's causing a new wave of cases in those who are not vaccinated.

Our experts tell me that cases will go up further before they start to come back down. But while cases are on the rise, they're not—we're not likely to see, according to experts, a comparable rise in hospitalizations or deaths in most areas of the country.

So you have to ask yourself: Why is that? Because 164 million Americans are fully vaccinated, including 80 percent of those most vulnerable: our seniors.

So there's a challenge, as we knew there could be. But there's also good news. We've spent the last 6 months preparing for this possibility. The vaccines are highly effective. We have enough vaccine for everyone to get vaccinated.

And thanks to the American Rescue Plan and the hard work of the American people, we've administered over 325 million vaccinations—doses in the past 6 months. We have the tools to prevent this new wave of COVID from shutting down our businesses, our schools, our society, as we saw happen last year.

I've said from the beginning that we will be guided by the science. So here's what the science tells us. On Tuesday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, announced its new mask recommendation in parts of the country where COVID cases are substantially high, where people didn't get vaccinated, which they define as 50 new cases for every 100,000 people in a week.

The CDC recommends you wear a mask when you're in public and indoors, like work or in a grocery store. That's true for both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Why? Because even if you've been fully vaccinated and protected from severe illness from COVID-19, you could have the Delta variant in your system and spread it to someone who isn't vaccinated.

We need to wear masks to protect each other and to stop the rapid spread of this virus as we work to get more people vaccinated. And I hope all Americans who live in areas with substantial or high case rates will follow the mask guidance that's being laid down by the CDC. I certainly will. And I have, because this is one of those areas, in Washington. And, at my decision—at my direction, all Federal personnel and visitors to Federal buildings will have to do the same thing.

As I've said from the beginning, a mask is not a political statement, it's about protecting yourself and protecting others. Masking is one defense against the spread of COVID-19.

But make no mistake: Vaccines are the best defense against you getting severely ill from COVID-19, the very best defense. And you want to know how we put this virus behind us? Well, I'll tell you how: We need to get more people vaccinated.

Look, and it's important to understand what vaccines do and what they don't do. Put simply, the vaccines are designed to save lives and prevent severe illness. They're highly effective at both.

A hundred and ninety million Americans have had at least one shot. Of that group, about 90 percent are done now, and 10 percent are waiting for the second shot. To those folks who have one shot, but not the second: Go get the second shot. Even if you're overdue for the second shot, it is not too late. Go get the second shot now. Now.

The bottom line is: If you're fully vaccinated, you're highly protected from COVID-19. But I also know that many of you who are vaccinated are concerned about what's called "breakthrough cases." Yes, some fully vaccinated people will still test positive, and some will show some symptoms of COVID-19. That's expected with almost every vaccine there is for other diseases.

But breakthrough cases remain rare, and almost all are mild cases. In fact, virtually all hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated.

I also know many of you are wondering if you'll need a booster shot to add another layer of protection. As of now, my medical advisers say the answer is no. No American needs a booster now. But if the science tells us there's a need for boosters, then that's something we'll do. And we have purchased the supply—all the supply—we need to be ready if that was called for.

Folks, the truth is, as more people get vaccinated, we are better protected as a nation to continue reopening safely and responsibly. But we are not fully out of the woods yet, because what is happening in America right now is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Let me say that again: It's a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

There are about 90 million Americans who are eligible to get the shot, but haven't gotten it yet. As I just mentioned, nearly all of the cases, hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID-19 today are from unvaccinated people.

Last month, a study showed that over 99 percent of COVID-19 deaths had been among the unvaccinated—99 percent. This is an American tragedy. People are dying and will die who don't have to die. If you're out there unvaccinated, you don't have to die.

Read the news, and you'll see stories about unvaccinated patients in hospitals. As they're lying in bed, dying from COVID-19, they're asking, "Doc, can I get the vaccine?" And the doctors have to say, "Sorry, it's too late."

Right now too many people are dying or watching someone they love dying and saying, "If I just got vaccinated, if I just"—it's heartbreaking. And it's complicated even more because it's preventable.

America is divided between the majority of eligible people who are vaccinated and those who are not. And I understand that many of you in the majority are frustrated with the consequences of the failure of the minority to get vaccinated.

But I want you to know that I'm going to continue to do everything I can to encourage the unvaccinated to get vaccinated. That includes addressing hesitancy and misinformation head on. For example, I know some of you are—who are unvaccinated think: "The development of vaccine was rushed, therefore I'm not going to take a chance. As a result, I think it's not safe because it was rushed." I understand.

But let me explain. Our top scientists at the National Institute of Health, the NIH, and across the country got to work applying decades of research—decades of research—let me repeat that: decades—that have already been done—the research—to develop the COVID-19 vaccine when it hit.

In the last 6 months, more than 325 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in the United States and billions of doses administered around the world. The vaccine was developed and authorized under a Republican administration, and has been distributed and administered under a Democratic administration.

The vaccines are safe, highly effective. And there's nothing political about them. Look at all the people who took a shot at it. They later—we learned a lot of them have already been vaccinated.

From the start, I have to compliment Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He hasn't made it political. He's encouraged people to get vaccinated and is continuing to do so, and his State is in pretty good shape. Alabama Republican Governor Kay Ivey recently spoke out to encourage vaccination.

And even the commentators on Fox who have been belittling this for a long time—some haven't, but many have—are arguing, "Get vaccinated." Look, this is not about red States and blue States, it's literally about life and death. It's about life and death. That's what it's about.

You know—and I know people talk about freedom. But I learned, growing up at school and from my parents, with freedom comes responsibility. Your decision to be unvaccinated impacts someone else.

Unvaccinated people spread the virus. They get sick and fill up our hospitals. And that means if someone else has a heart attack or breaks a hip, there may not be a hospital bed for them.

If you're unvaccinated, you put your doctor and nurses at risk, the same frontline, essential workers who put their lives on the line over the past year and have gone through hell.

Again, with freedom comes responsibility. So, please, exercise responsible judgement. Get vaccinated: for yourself, for the people you love, for your country.

I'm being literal when I say this: As I travel the world, almost every day a foreign leader calls me, asking can I provide his or her country more vaccines? Their people are desperate for vaccines. I'm doing everything to answer those calls. We're sending millions of vaccines to people around the world.

But, folks, it's an American blessing that we have vaccines for each and every American. We've made it our first and top priority to have available vaccines for every eligible American and that's never going to change as long as I'm here.

And it's a shame—it's just such a shame—to squander that blessing. That's why after 6 months of extraordinary work and effort, today I'm laying out additional steps we should be taking to deliver these lifesaving vaccines to more Americans.

First, we're going to provide more incentives to encourage unvaccinated Americans to get vaccinated. That starts with paid leave to get the shot. We're still hearing that people are unable to get time off from their employer to get vaccinated. Well, this is unacceptable.

For some time now, I've said you should be able to get the shot and still get paid. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, the Federal Government is fully reimbursing any small or medium-sized business that provides workers with paid time off to get vaccinated. Employers, this costs you nothing. If you haven't given employees paid time off, do it now, please.

Today I'm announcing that we're taking this a step further. The Federal Government will now reimburse those employers to give their staffs—who give their staffs time off not only to get themselves vaccinated, but also to get their family members vaccinated.

That means employers can get reimbursed if they give parents time off—with paid time, paid leave—to take their kids or their own parents to get vaccinated. So I'm calling on all employees [employers]* across the country to give paid time off to get the shot or to help a family member do so. I promise you: It will cost you, the employer, nothing. You'll be reimbursed.

Secondly, I'm announcing that we'll continue the work—to work with States to encourage unvaccinated people to get vaccinated. In February, the grocery store chain Kroger's offered $100 to their associates if they'd get vaccinated. And it worked. Vaccination rates moved up from 50 percent to 75 percent among their employees.

States like New Mexico, Ohio, and Colorado are offering similar incentive programs that have helped increase vaccination rates. So today I'm calling on all States and local governments to use funding they have received, including from the American Rescue Plan, to give $100 to anyone who gets fully vaccinated.

I know that paying people to get vaccinated might sound unfair to folks who've gotten vaccinated already, but here's the deal: If incentives help us beat this virus, I believe we should use them. We all benefit if we can get more people vaccinated.

But, in addition to providing incentives to encourage vaccination, it's time to impose requirements on key groups to make sure they're vaccinated.

[At this point, the President cleared his throat.]

Excuse me. Just this week, we took an important step to protect our veterans. Like many civilian hospital systems are doing, the Department of Veterans Affairs will now require COVID-19 vaccines for doctors and nurses and other health care workers who provide medical care for our veterans. We must do everything possible to protect our veterans from getting COVID when they come to get medical care they so richly earned serving their country. We owe them.

Next, since many vaccinations are required for Active Duty military today, I'm asking the Defense Department to look into how and when they will add COVID-19 to the list of vaccinations our Armed Forces must get.

Our men and women in uniform who protect this country from grave threats should be protected as much as possible from getting COVID-19. I think this is particularly important because our troops serve in places throughout the world, many where vaccination rates are low and disease is prevalent.

Next, every Federal Government employee will be asked to attest to their vaccination status. Anyone who does not attest or is not vaccinated will be required to mask no matter where they work; test one or two times a week to see if they have acquired COVID; socially distance; and generally will not be allowed to travel for work.

Likewise, today I'm directing my administration to take steps to apply similar standards to all Federal contractors. If you want to do business with the Federal Government, get your workers vaccinated.

Look at the Chamber of Commerce, representing tens of thousands of American businesses, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable, which is comprised of the largest and biggest corporations in America. They're all applauding the actions the Federal Government is taking, and I urge them to follow suit.

I also commend the National Football League that has announced that if there are outbreaks among unvaccinated players and personnel, then the team risks forfeiting games. I urge other sport leagues at every level to take every step they can.

Every day, more businesses are implementing their own vaccine mandates. And the Justice Department has made it clear that it is legal to require COVID-19 vaccines. We all want our lives to get back to normal, and fully vaccinated work places will—will—make that happen more quickly and more successfully. We all know that in our gut. With incentives and mandates, we can make a huge difference and save a lot of lives.

I also want to speak to families with children in school. We can and we must open schools this fall full time. It's better for our children's mental and emotional well-being, and we can't afford another year out of the classroom. Every school should be open, and we're giving them the tools to be able to do so safely, even in those areas where they have a higher vaccination—they have a higher rate of COVID.

Through the American Rescue Plan, we've provided schools billions of dollars to implement safety measures: better ventilation, social distancing, and other measures. In March, when vaccinations were scarce, I prioritized teachers and school workers by utilizing our Federal Pharmacy Program. Almost 90 percent of educators and school staff are now vaccinated.

Additionally, the CDC has provided clear guidance on how all schools can safely protect the kids and bring them back to the classroom: every student wear a mask. It's that simple. So we've funded safety measures at schools, we've vaccinated teachers and staffs, and we can mask up our kids for further protection.

But once again, there's one more thing we need to do: Get more adolescents, ages 12 and up, vaccinated now that they've been cleared. In the past week, the good news is, we're seeing the average number of 12- to 17-year-olds getting vaccinated go—increase 22 percent per day.

Today I'm asking school districts to host one last popup vaccination clinic over the coming weeks for kids ages 12 and up. We're directing the Federal Pharmacy Program to help make that happen. Parents, get your children vaccinated. You do it for so many other things right now.

And for kids under 12, if and when the vaccines are deemed safe for them, we'll be prepared to get the vaccines administered as quickly and as safely as possible.

Look—and as we work to vaccinate more Americans, we're prepared for outbreaks in areas of—where there are unvaccinated people. My administration has made it clear to every Governor that more Federal resources are available to them. This includes the deployment of surge teams composed of experts from the CDC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the FEMA.

We're going to continue to provide States with more testing, treatments, protective equipment, personnel, mobile vaccination clinics to stem the surge of the virus among the unvaccinated.

The pictures of hospitals in several States overloaded with patients is unnecessary, avoidable, and tragic. You know, we'll help any health system overloaded and unable to cope with a spike in cases. We're ready to do that.

Let me close with this: If you're at home and vaccinated, but anxious or even angry, or if you're at home and unvaccinated, unbothered and unconvinced, let's step back and see where we are. Just remember how we've emerged from a dark winter into a hopeful spring and summer. But really remember just how dark that winter was.

Over 3,600 Americans were dying each and every day. And now, even with the surge among the unvaccinated, we're down to that—300 Americans a day. Significant.

Millions of people were out of work, out of homes, out of hope, and going hungry. Remember those long lines of people in their automobiles waiting for a box of food to be put in their trunk?

Experts and pundits said we couldn't get the vaccines. And even if we could get the vaccines, we couldn't get them in people's arms and couldn't get them vaccinated. They predicted our economy would collapse. But remember how we stayed focused and how we went to work?

In 6 months, we got 164 million Americans fully vaccinated. And because we vaccinated so many people, put in place so many safety measures, and got economic help to businesses and people most in need, our economy is recovering.

More than 3 million Americans are back to work since I was sworn in, a faster job growth than any previous administration—any. We're experiencing the fastest economic growth in nearly four decades. The best in the world as of now.

In fact, today's GDP numbers show that in the first half of the year, our economy grew faster than any point in nearly 40 years. Our economy grew more in 6 months than most Wall Street forecasters expected for the entire year before we implemented our plan.

And just yesterday we announced a bipartisan infrastructure deal that's going to continue this momentum over the long term by making the most significant investment to rebuild America in nearly a century.

But we still have to face many challenges. We still have a lot of work to do as we readjust to a postpandemic economy. But we have the right plan. We're coming back. We just have to stay ahead of this virus.

I know this is hard to hear. I know it's frustrating. I know it's exhausting to think we're still in this fight. And I know we hoped this would be a simple, straightforward line, without problems or new challenges. But that isn't real life. We're coming out of the worst public health crisis in 100 years, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

As I told you before, I carry a card in my pocket—I hope I have it with me—I have—carry a card in my pocket with the number of Americans dead from COVID-19. As of today—this morning—the total deaths in the United States were 609,441. Granted, the death rate per day is way down; it's down to 400, about, dead. But that's more deaths than World War I, World War II, Vietnam, 9/11, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars combined. This is as tough as it gets.

We're Americans. When we get knocked down, we get back up. That's who we are. That's what we do. That's why there's no nation on Earth like us. And we're prepared like never before. We have the tools to save lives, to keep our economy growing and growing and going.

After the past 6 months, following the science, we know we can dramatically lower the cases in this country. We can do this. We brought our economy back to life, and we kept it going. We know we can send our kids back to school. We know we can beat this virus. We can do this. We all just have to do our part.

My fellow Americans, this Nation has never failed when we have come together as the United States of America. So I say to all those who are unvaccinated: Please, please get vaccinated.

And to the rest of America: This is no time to be despondent or let our guard down. We just need to finish the job with science, with facts, with the truth. And together, as Americans, we're going to be able to beat this.

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

Q. Mr. President——

Q. Mr. President, if the vaccines are so effective, why do vaccinated people still need to wear masks?

Q. Mr. President, Mr. President——

Coronavirus Prevention Efforts

Q. Mr. President, how long do you think it might be necessary to wear masks? And at what point do you think people might have to have a booster shot? Thank you.

The President. I said it in my talk: The booster shot is not needed now. It is possible that it will be needed later. I don't know—they don't—the science hasn't dictated that yet. And the first part of your question?

Q. How long do you think people might have to wear a mask again?

The President. Well, if you notice, a lot of places, people don't have to wear masks. Let's get that straight. The places where people have gotten vaccinated, where we have a high vaccination rate, people do not have to wear masks at all.

Like some of you were with me yesterday when I was up in Lehigh Valley. Didn't have to wear a mask there. Don't have to mask if you come home to Delaware with me; I know you love doing that. But you don't have to wear a mask. The places people are probably going to have to wear masks: in those communities where the high rate of unvaccinated stays high and they don't move—they don't move to getting vaccinated.

But I think you're going to find the patience of businesses and the patience of a lot of other people running thin. Because the fact is, if you had high vaccination rates, you—we wouldn't be in the spot right now.

Yes.

Q. Mr. President——

Risks Incurred by the Unvaccinated/Coronavirus Vaccination Efforts

Q. Mr. President, will this set up an American workplace for Federal workers and private sector that really is the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated? And is that a pressure you're trying to harness now?

The President. Well, no, I'm not—look, what I'm trying to do is keep people safe. I mean that sincerely.

So if in fact you're unvaccinated, you present a problem to yourself, to your family, and to those with whom you work. Because as was pointed out—I was asked the question about, "Why would people who have already been vaccinated get it?" Well, you've got anywhere from 2 to 3 percent, on average—the last study done—that can still get COVID. They don't get very sick. They don't get hospitalized. It's not serious, but they can catch it.

And the concern is, they may be able to pass it on. And so that's all being studied right now. But it's important—thing is, if people are vaccinated, the transmission rate drops through the floor. And that's all we're trying to do.

Yes.

Coronavirus Vaccine Mandates

Q. Mr. President, thank you. Why not push for vaccine mandates in States, private companies, schools? Do you want to see those entities pass vaccine mandates?

The President. Well, I'd like to see them continue to move in that direction, and that's why I point it out. I had asked the Justice Department to determine whether that is—they're able to do that legally, and they can. Local communities can do that. Local businesses can do that.

It's still a question whether the Federal Government can mandate the whole country. I don't know that yet.

Q. Mr. President——

Coronavirus Vaccination Efforts/Benefits of Vaccination

Q. Mr. President, you said, earlier this week, that we are not headed back towards lockdowns. But if the science is evolving, how can you be so confident in that? You heard—we heard you saying, weeks ago, that "the virus [was] on the run," but Dr. Fauci has also indicated that we are headed in the wrong direction.

The President. Well, look, you're take—you're literally correct on everything you said, but it doesn't make—come to the conclusion you're implying.

It is clear that if everybody is vaccinated, the existing vaccines work to prevent death, serious illness, hospitalization. Okay? If every—so, if tomorrow I can wave a wand and every American was vaccinated, then in fact we'd be out of the woods.

Now, can something else happen a year from now? Can there be a different virus? Can there be something? It's possible. But I'm talking about COVID and the existing variants that have come forward so far.

So it makes a—it's a simple proposition: If you're vaccinated, you find yourself in a situation where you are—highly unlikely, even if you somehow get the virus; very small percentage do—that you are not going to be hospitalized, you're not going to be on a ventilator, you're not going to be sick, but you could be in a position to possibly spread it to someone who wasn't if you have it in you.

Yes.

Q. Mr. President——

Coronavirus Vaccination Efforts/Proof of Vaccination

Q. Mr. President, thank you. I wanted to ask: Why not require that the people show proof that they're vaccinated? And also, if you could just—with the 4 million, how much of an impact do you think this will have? Do you have a projection, sir?

The President. A projection on what?

Q. On how many people will get vaccinated by putting in this system?

The President. No, I can't—I'm not going to get in business of projecting—I—exactly how many people are likely. All I know is that we go through these periods, then we run up against a wall, then something happens where people realize, "Oh, my lord, this is really a problem," and they begin to see things.

Look, the fact that a lot of your friends are now saying, "Get vaccinated," who were—before were saying: "This is not a problem. This is all a Democratic thing." With a small "d" and a capital "D." [Laughter] I mean, there's a lot changing. People are becoming aware. The more aware they become, then we have these surges of people going out and getting vaccinated——

Q. But what about requiring proof——

The President. ——and it just keeps building.

Q. I'm sorry, sir.

The President. What about what?

Q. What about requiring proof, sir?

The President. Well, that is—there's two ways to do it, and I think you're going to see some institutions doing that. Like you're going to fly abroad, you've got to—you're going to have to have proof. You're not just going to be able to say, "Yes, I got tested." You've got to provide proof.

My guess is: If we don't start to make more progress, a lot of businesses and a lot of enterprises are going to require proof for you to be able to participate.

Q. Mr. President—

Q. Mr. President, Mr. President——

The President. In the back. And then, I'm going to take off, shortly here.

Coronavirus Vaccine Mandates/Proof of Vaccination

Q. What further actions are you going to take to encourage private businesses to follow this type of model to either require vaccines or require testing or other preventative procedures?

The President. I just did. I'm going to keep at it. I'm going to be talking about it around the country. I'm——

Q. Are you—but are you going to reach out to private businesses, meet with them, try and actively encourage them to follow this model?

The President. Well, I have. That's why we have folks from the—everyone from the Chamber of Commerce to the manufacturers, et cetera. So, you know, I am—am I going to call a meeting of every, you know, business in the country to come to Washington? And—or go on—I have made the case repeatedly.

I doubt whether there's a single, solitary business that doesn't understand that I think it's smart for them to require testing, require—and if you—if you can't demonstrate, you can't prove you've been vaccinated, you have to be tested.

Q. Mr. President, on one servicemembers, the military. Servicemembers, sir——

Q. Mr. President——

Q. One on servicemembers, sir——

Q. Mr. President——

Potential Coronavirus Vaccine Mandate for U.S. Servicemembers

Q. Secretary Austin said he was already considering mandating——

The President. Yes.

Q. ——the vaccine after it was fully approved. Would you like to see the mandate go into effect before full approval? And do you think he's open to that?

The President. I know he's open to it. And the question is: When is the right time to get the most bang for the buck when you do it? A lot of this is timing. And so I think it's going to happen, but I—look, the one thing that you all are politely and appropriately referencing is that it's still a temporary approval. So when does the final approval come? It usually takes a lot of—a lot of work to get there.

I made a commitment I would not tell anyone in the Justice Department who they should prosecute and I would not tell the health industry that they—excuse me, the Government health entities what they should say and do. But my expectation is, they're going to reach that conclusion in the early fall.

Thank you very much.

Coronavirus Prevention Efforts/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Updated Guidance on Face Coverings

Q. Mr. President, one more. Mr. President, you said—Mr. President, you said—Mr. President, you said, "If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask." And it seems——

The President. No, I didn't say that.

Q. You did. I have the quote.

The President. I said if you're fully vaccinated in an area where you do not have—well, let me clarify it.

Q. In May, you made it sound like a vaccine was——

The President. Well, in May, that's true.

Q. ——the ticket to losing the mask forever, and it——

The President. That is true at the time, because I thought there were people who were going to understand that getting vaccinated made a gigantic difference. And what happen was: A new variant came along, they didn't get vaccinated, it was spread more rapidly, and people—more people were getting sick. That's the difference.

Q. How frustrated are you with those people?

Q. Is it possible we'll have another wave, Mr. President?

First Lady Jill T. Biden

Q. How is the First Lady, sir?

The President. I'm going to find out in a minute. [Laughter] That's why I'm leaving.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:23 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. A reporter referred to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony S. Fauci.

* White House correction.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on the COVID-19 Response and National Vaccination Efforts and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/351299

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