Remarks at the Federal Emergency Management Agency COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Site in Houston, Texas
You're all being very polite. You've been with me all day, and it's dinner time. [Laughter]
Good afternoon—or almost. Actually, it's evening. And I want to thank you, Governor and Mrs. Abbott, for your hospitality and your friendship. And Representative—Senator Cornyn, I think he had to go back; I think he's getting on a plane. He told me last—he came in to see me last event. And Representatives Shirley [Sheila]* Jackson Lee, Al Green, Sylvia Garcia, Lizzie Pannilli—excuse me, Pannill [Elizabeth Pannill Fletcher]*—and—what am I doing here? I'm going to lose track here. And Mayor Turner, Judge Hidalgo. Thank you all for welcoming us.
Severe Winter Storms
And Jill and I wanted to visit Texas today for a couple of reasons: First and foremost, to let the people of Texas know our prayers are with you in the aftermath of this winter storm. And secondly, to let you know what I told Governor Abbott and Mayor Turner and Judge Hidalgo and the congressional delegation: that we will be true partners to help you recover and rebuild from the storms and this pandemic and the economic crisis. We're in for the long haul.
Earlier today we received an update on the storm relief efforts from—from Harris County, at the Harris County Emergency Operations Center. The folks there are doing God's work, as my mother would say. It was an important update on how the Federal Government and the States are working together through the major disaster declaration and the emergency declarations that I made after the storm hit when the Governor contacted me.
The Federal Emergency Management, FEMA, is providing millions of gallons of water and millions of meals, direct assistance, to uninsured homeowners to repair the damage burst pipes caused to millions of homes across this State. And the public assistance that comes with a disaster declaration ensures that mayors and county officials can find shelter for folks in need and keep them safe and warm. This in addition to the more than 125,000 blankets FEMA has also made available to storm victims so children and families don't go to sleep cold.
FEMA, working with the Defense Logistics Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers from the Defense Department, has made generators and diesel fuel available to hospitals and nursing homes and other critical facilities to keep the lights on and speed power restoration along the way. Many local military bases are helping efforts to distribute water and food, fuel, and blankets all across this State. And I especially want to thank the servicemembers for helping your fellow Americans in time of need. When we have a problem, we always call on the military—domestic or foreign—no matter what. You're the best in the world.
And I know millions of Texans have been impacted by the disruption of community water systems as a result of the power outages. The Environmental Protection Agency has deployed mobile drinking water labs in Houston, San Antonio, and Fort Worth to test water so we can get the—so you can get boil water advisories lifted and get safe drinking water flowing through those faucets again. There's more, but let me say this: We're not here today as Democrats or Republicans. We're here today as Americans. The American leaders, with responsibility—all of us here in this parking lot—responsibility to all the people we serve. When a crisis hits our States, like the one that hit Texas, it's not a Republican or Democrat who's hurting, it's our fellow Americans who are hurting. And it's our job to help everyone in need. Look out for one another. Leave nobody behind.
COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts
That's what we've seen today in our visit. After our briefing on the storm relief, we stopped by the Houston Food Bank that's also doing God's work—incredible operation—just like everyone else here in this—in the vaccination center. They've done thousands of people. Thousands of people. It's making a fundamental difference in the safety and security of people.
The more people get vaccinated, the faster we will beat this pandemic. That's why one of my first steps and my first goals as President was to announce that I was going to get 100 million COVID vaccine shots administered in my first 100 days. And because of the people behind me and others, America would be the—is going to be the first in the country—perhaps the first in the world—to get that done.
And I'm proud to say we're halfway there: 50 million shots. Actually, I was telling the Congressman earlier, I carry a little card with me. And it lists, every day, the number of—the actual number of vaccines that have been administered. As of today, five—as of last night, 503,587—every single one matters—in just 37 days. Weeks ahead of schedule. We're weeks ahead of schedule. Even with setbacks from the winter storm, we're moving in the right direction.
Look, in the last 6 weeks, we've gone from 6 million shots right before we took office, in total, to 12 million shots per week now. We've increased vaccine distribution by 70 percent. Sixty percent of the people over the age of six—60 percent of the people over the age of 75 have received at least one shot. Close to 50 percent of the people over the age of 65 got at least one shot. And you say, why am I focused on that? Well, it's especially important because people over the age of 65 account for 80 percent of all the COVID deaths. Eighty percent.
Roughly 75 percent of the people who live in long-term care facilities now have gotten their first dose, and those cases are at the lowest level since reporting began in May. We're making this progress because of all of you. The Federal Government and the States are working together along with public and private partners.
It starts with supply. We worked with vaccine manufacturers—Pfizer and Moderna—to ensure we have enough supply to supply all adults in America by the end of July. And we discovered that vaccine manufacturers, though, weren't getting prioritized when it came to securing supplies they needed to fix their problem of not being able to go more rapidly. So I used the Defense Production Act to speed up the supply chain for key equipment that's already helped increase vaccine production.
Last week, I toured the Pfizer vaccine manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It's incredible: the precision, the safety, the pride, the sense of purpose, everyone involved at that facility. And we've all seen the news about the Johnson and Johnson vaccine today. It's just the third safe, effective vaccine. And it's out. They've approved it today. We're going to use every conceivable way to expand manufacturing of the vaccine—the third vaccine—to make even more rapid progress at getting shots in people's arms.
Here's what else we're doing: We're increasing the number of vaccinators. The people putting the—it's one thing to have the vaccine; it's another thing to get it in people's arms. We've brought back retired doctors and nurses by Executive order, allowing that to happen. We've already deployed more than 1,500 professionals—medical professionals—you see during natural disasters from FEMA, our Commissioned Corps from the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Defense Department, including the National Guard. And we're lining up thousands more.
We're also setting up more places to get vaccinated. And today—as of today, we provided $3.8 billion to States, Territories, and Tribes to create hundreds of new vaccination centers and ramp up existing ones. We're providing personnel and equipment, and we're covering the costs for States, including the use of their National Guards.
Here in Texas, it's meant millions of dollars and hundreds of vaccinators working at community vaccination centers and three mass vaccination centers in Arlington, Dallas, and right here in Houston, on the other side here, that vaccinate thousands of Texans a day. Tens of thousands overall.
I want to show the American people the extraordinary effort being made and undertaken in the most difficult operational challenge this Nation has ever faced logistically. It's remarkable. About 6,000 doses a day here.
Folks who are eligible can call by phone, sign up online for an appointment, drive in, stay in their cars, get a shot, in and out in a very short amount of time. It requires massive logistical coordination and critical Federal support from FEMA and the National Guard to work with cities and States, and the Houston Texans, to stand up this kind of site.
Vice President Harris and I did a virtual tour of a similar vaccination center in Arizona. One nurse—one nurse there said—she talked about the shots, talking how many they were getting in people's arms, and she said she felt like she was administering—and get this—a "dose of hope." A dose of hope.
We're working with Governors across the country to stand up and lend Federal support to hundreds of vaccination centers: from stadiums, like here, to community centers, to houses of worship, large parking lots, delivery places. Doses of hope we can get in people's arms as quickly as possible.
I've also sent millions of vaccines to thousands of local pharmacies—over 7,000—to make it easier for folks to get the COVID-19 vaccine shot like they would a flu shot, because people are comfortable going to their local pharmacy. They go there for their flu shot and everything else. They trust the pharmacist, and they're likely to go.
Here in Texas, that includes 500 pharmacies across this State, like Walmart and CVS, including 50 pharmacies here in Houston. And for the folks who didn't live near a vaccination center or a pharmacy, we're deploying mobile clinics to go out to those neighborhoods in rural areas where people are unable to get to the centers. These are special vehicles with pop-up clinics that meet folks where they live and where they don't have the transportation to get the shots, which they'll be launching very soon here in Houston—that mobile—those mobile units—as well as Dallas, Arlington, and across the State.
We've also started to send vaccines directly to community health centers to help the hard-to-reach folks in cities, small towns, and rural communities; in Black, Latino, and Native American communities that have higher rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths than any other group.
Here in Texas, we're already partnering with 12 community health centers in 10 cities, which have combined sites at over 100 locations across the entire State. We're going to save people's lives. As a result of these round-the-clock efforts, in 5 weeks, America has administered the most shots of any country in the world. That's great progress. And it's also true that while COVID-19 vaccinations are up, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are down.
But I need to be honest with you. I said from the beginning—like Roosevelt who said, I'll shoot you "straight from the shoulder"—you can handle anything as long as you're told the truth. Cases and hospitalizations could go back up with new—as new variants emerge. And it's not the time to relax. We have to keep washing our hands, staying socially distanced. And for God's sake, wear your mask. Wear your mask. It's not a political statement, it's a patriotic thing to do.
Some of our progress in this fight is because so many Americans are stepping up and doing these things. And the worst thing we could do now would be let our guard down.
And here's another critical point: We're going to hit a phase in this effort, maybe late April or early May, when many predict there will be ramped-up vaccine supply and we'll have administered shots to most of the people who really are eager to get them and those who have been able to get there. But at the same time, the warning is: There'll be people who live in hard-to-reach areas who can't get the shots, and there are folks who are hesitant to take the shots.
We all know there's a history in this country of subjugating certain communities to terrible medical and scientific abuse. But if there's one message that needs to cut through all of this: The vaccines are safe. I promise you. They are safe and effective. Listen to Dr. Fauci. Listen to the scientists who developed them through extensive and rigorous review. I did. And I took my shot publicly to demonstrate to the American people it's safe and effective. To address this challenge, we're going to launch a massive campaign to educate people about the vaccines: that they are safe and effective, and that they can go and get those shots and be good.
I'm going to close with this: This past year has been one of the most painful years in American history. As I said, we've lost over 500,000 lives to the virus. Five hundred thousand moms and dads, husbands and wives, sons and daughters staring at an empty chair at that dining room table or the kitchen table; friends, neighbors, coworkers, and over the country—all over the country where the loved ones who are gone—they're gone. Empty. Empty feeling in your chest, like you're being sucked into a black hole in your chest. But all over the country, where loved ones once sat, there's an empty chair.
And, folks, look, there's so much we can do. As you see the broken hearts in the families that have been left behind, there's nothing partisan about this virus. It's too long we've allowed the virus to divide us.
I met today with Governor Abbott, Senator Cornyn—conservative Republicans. I'm a Democratic President. We disagree on plenty of things, and there's nothing wrong with that. But there are plenty of things we can work on together, and one of them is represented right here today: the effort to speed up vaccinations. We're not giving shots to Democrats or Republicans. I say it again: We're giving shots to Americans.
All across the country, we've got members of the Armed Forces, FEMA, volunteers, retirees, fellow Americans working around the clock to give these shots. And they're building on the work of scientists, researchers, doctors, and nurses. And my team at the White House, which is coordinating all of this, is first rate.
None of this has a partisan tinge or a partisan element to it. This can be a great American achievement—being the only country in the world to reach 100 million shots in 100 days. This could unite us as a country—to vaccinate America, to protect America, to heal America. And I know we can do this. Why? Because I know America can do great things when we do it together. I know my family spent a lot of time here in Houston, by the way, at—hey, John Eddie. How are you, buddy? I didn't see you there. At Houston, at MD Anderson, when our son Beau was being treated for glioblastoma before he passed away.
Just yesterday I saw MD Anderson announce its joint—he joined four—they joined four other major cancer hospitals to help break down the silos that make real progress in this effort difficult. Now they're sharing data and information. That wasn't going on 4 or 5 years ago. We're going to beat cancer. I know we will. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If there is just one thing—one thing—I could be known for as President, it would be to end—the President who, during his era, ended cancer as we know it.
But then, last week—guess what?—we also landed a rover on Mars. We—led by a NASA team in Pasadena, California. A rover carries instruments developed by a team here in Houston that will be used in the mission of our time and our dreams. Imagine. We tell—everybody has been so down the last number of years about what America—what can we do? Who are—we can do anything! America can do anything. And now we see the images that are truly stunning: battling COVID, beating cancer, going to Mars.
If there's one thing I know about America, it's this: Americans never give up. They never give in. They never cry uncle. They just struggle, innovate, and they preserve—and persevere. We're going to get through all of this, I promise you. And we're going to do it together. Together.
God bless you all, and may God protect our troops. You're the best. We can do all of this, guys. I promise you. We can do this. Nobody in the world can compete with us when we're together. Thank you all so very much.
NOTE: The President spoke at 4:47 p.m. at the NRG Stadium. In his remarks, he referred to Cecilia Abbott, wife of Gov. Gregory W. Abbott of Texas; Lina Hidalgo, judge, Harris County, TX; Brittney Hayes, head charge nurse, Arizona State University's State Farm Stadium vaccination site in Glendale, AZ; National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony S. Fauci; and John Eddie Williams Jr., founder and managing partner, Williams Hart Boundas Easterby LLP.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks at the Federal Emergency Management Agency COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Site in Houston, Texas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/348269