U.S. President Biden’s Remarks on COVID- 19 Response and Vaccination Program 25 September

The White House

State Dining Room

9:57 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everyone. As I’ve said before, we have the tools to beat COVID — COVID-19 — if we come together as a country and use the tools we have.

Earlier this month, I laid out a six-part plan for the fall that does just that: One, vaccinate the unvaccinated, including with new requirements; two, keep vaccinated — keep the vaccinated protected; three, keep children safe and schools open; four, increase testing and masking; five, protect the economic — our economic recovery; and six, improve the care for people with COVID-19. Now, we’ve made important progress on each front.

And this week, as planned, we took a key step in protecting the vaccinated with booster shots, which our top government doctors believe provides the highest level of protection available to date.

The Food and Drug Administration — the FDA — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the CDC — they’ve completed their independent scientific review. And based on that review, the majority of Americans who were fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine are now able to receive the booster shot six months after they’ve received their second shot. Six months after you receive the second shot, you’re eligible.

Those eligible include, in addition to meeting the requirement of six months after the second shot: those people that are 65 years old or older; adults 18 and over with certain underlying health conditions like diabetes and obesity; and those who are at increased risk of COVID-19 because of where they work or where they live, like healthcare workers, teachers, grocery store workers.

That’s over — that group makes up 60 million Americans who are now eligible for a booster six months after their second shot. And up to 20 million who will receive their — received their earlier Pfizer shot at least six months ago are eligible today. So, those January, February — those folks are eligible now. Now.

And I’ve made clear all along: The decision of which booster shot to give, when to start the shot, and who will get them is left to the scientists and the doctors. That’s what happened here.

And while we waited and prepared, we brought enough — we bought enough booster shots, and states and pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and community health centers have been preparing to get shots in arms — booster shots in arms — for a while.

And like your first and second shot, the booster shot is free and easily accessible. Booster shots will be available in 80,000 locations, including over 40,000 pharmacies nationwide.

So, my message today is this: If you’ve got the Pfizer vaccine — if you got the Pfizer vaccine in January, February, or March of this year and you’re over 65 years of age, go get the booster. Or if you have a medical condition like diabetes or you’re a frontline worker, like a healthcare worker or a teacher, you can get a free booster now. I’ll be getting my booster shot. It’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot. (Laughter.) It’s a bear, isn’t it? I tell you — acknowledge it. Anyway.

But all kidding aside, I’ll be getting my booster shot. I’m not sure exactly when I’m going to do it — as soon as I can get it done.

Of course, millions of Americans got the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. My message for you is this: You still have a high degree of protection. Our doctors and scientists are working day and night to analyze the data from those two organizations on whether and when you need a booster shot. And we’ll provide updates for you as the process moves ahead.

Again, the bottom line is: If you’re fully vaccinated, you’re highly protected from severe illness even if you get COVID-19.

In fact, recent data indicates there’s only one confirmed positive case per 5,000 fully vaccinated Americans per day. You’re as safe as possible. You’re in good shape. And we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way, which is where the booster comes in.

So, let me be clear: Yes, we’ve made incredible progress in vaccinating Americans, with over 182 million people being fully vaccinated as of today.

But this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And it’s caused by the fact that, despite Americans having an unprecedented and successful vaccination program, despite the fact that for almost five months, free vaccines have been available in 80,000 locations, we still have — we still have over 70 million Americans who have failed to get a single shot.

And to make matters worse, there are elected officials actively working to undermine with false information the fight against COVID-19. This is totally unacceptable.

The vast majority of Americans are doing the right thing. Three quarters of the eligible have gotten at least one shot, but one quarter has not gotten any.

And in a country as large as ours, that’s — 25 percent minority can cause an awful lot of damage. And they are causing a lot of damage.

The unvaccinated overcrowd our hospitals, overrunning emergency rooms and intensive care units, leaving no room for someone with a heart attack or a cancer operation needed to get the lifesaving care because the places where they would get that care are crowded; they are not available.

The unvaccinated also put our economic at — recovery at risk, causing unease in the economy around the — and causing unease around the kitchen table. I can imagine what’s going on in the conversations this morning, and a lot of parents wondering what’s going to happen. “What’s going to happen?” Those who have been vaccinated — “what’s going to happen?” Potentially slowing economic growth, costing jobs.

Their refusal has cost all of us. The refusal to get vaccinated has cost all of us. And I’m moving forward with vaccination requirements wherever I can. These requirements will cover two thirds of all workers in America.

And I’m pleased to see more businesses and organizations instituting their own vaccination requirements. I’ve had business leaders call me and thank me for setting the policies that would allow them to do the same thing. They are able to do it anyway, but it gives them the ability to move forward.

We’re making progress. For example, United Airlines, which required vaccines about seven weeks ago, now has 97 percent of their employees vaccinated.

Just four weeks ago, the Department of Defense required vaccinations for the military, and already 92 percent — 92 percent — of our active-duty service members are vaccinated.

And we’re on track to administer 24 million shots in arms in September.

So, please, do the right thing. Do the right thing. And I understand there’s a lot of misinformation you’ve been fed out there, but try to look through — get to people you trust, the people who have been vaccinated. Ask them. Ask them.

So, get vaccinated. But just don’t take it from me. Listen to the voices of the unvaccinated Americans who are lying in hospital beds, taking their final breaths, saying — and, literally, we’ve seen this on television — “If only I had gotten vaccinated. If only. If only.”

They’re leaving behind husbands and wives and small children — people who adore them. People are dying and will die who don’t have to die. It is not hyperbole to suggest it’s literally a tragedy.

Please don’t let this become your tragedy. Get vaccinated. It can save your liv- — your life. It can save the lives of those around you.

You know, text your ZIP Code to 438829 — 438829 — or visit Vaccines.gov to find a vaccination location near you now.

Let me close with this: We also made so much progress during the past eight months in this pandemic, and now we face a critical moment. We have the tools. We have the plan. We just have to finish the job together as one nation. And I know we can. I know we can.

God bless you all. And please, look out for your own self-interest and health here. Get vaccinated. May God protect our troops.

Thank you.

ABC, Rachel Scott.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You said on the campaign trail that you were going to restore the moral standing of the U.S., that you were going to immediately end Trump’s assault on the dignity of the immigrant communities.

Given what we saw at the border this week, have you failed in that promise? And this is happening under your watch. Do you take responsibility for the chaos that’s unfolding?

THE PRESIDENT: Of course I take responsibility. I’m President. But it was horrible what — to see, as you saw — to see people treated like they did: horses nearly running them over and people being strapped. It’s outrageous.

I promise you, those people will pay. They will be — an investigation is underway now, and there will be consequences. There will be consequences. It’s an embarrassment. But beyond an embarrassment, it’s dangerous; it’s wrong. It sends the wrong message around the world. It sends the wrong message at home. It’s simply not who we are. Thank you.

Peter Alexander.

Q Mr. President, thank you. You came into office on a message of competence and unity. We’ve witnessed what’s happened in the country over the course of the last several months. We’ve seen the chaotic troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the threat of a government shutdown right now, and Democrats — members of your own party — are still divided over your agenda going forward. So what do you say to Americans who say that you have not delivered on that promise?

THE PRESIDENT: Remember, I said it’s going to take me a year to deliver everything I’m looking at here. That’s number one.

Number two, take a look at what I inherited when I came into office — when I came into office, the state of affairs, and where we were: We had 4 million people vaccinated. We had no plan. We had — I mean, I can go down the list.

So, you know, part of it is dealing with the panoply of things that were landed on my plate. I’m not complaining; it’s just a reality. It’s a reality, number one.

Number two, I think a part of what has to happen here as well — for example, let’s talk about my economic plan. The economic plan — and you all are always — and understandably, legitimately — citing polls. Every element of my economic plan is overwhelmingly popular — overwhelmingly popular.

But the problem is, with everything happening, not everybody knows what’s in that plan. For example, all those women out there who are not able to go back to work because they have a — a dependent grandparent or a parent, or they have a dependent child who needs help, or they can’t find daycare, or they can’t find affor- — I mean, look at what’s happening.

Well, there’s a solution. There’s a solution in the proposal that I put forward. And the plans we’re now debating in the United St- — among ourselves and they’re debating in Congress as — is a plan — the essence of the plan that I laid out at the beginning.

And so, I’m confident that, at the end of the day, we’re going to be able to get that done.

Second point I’d like to make: We talk about price tags. The — it is zero price tag on the debt. We’re paying — we’re going to pay for everything we spend. So they say it’s not — you know, people, understandably — “Well, you know, it started off at $6 trillion, now it’s $3.5 trillion. Now it’s — is it going to be $2.9? Is it…”

It’s going to be zero — zero. Because in the — in that plan that I put forward — and I said from the outset — I said, “I’m running to change the dynamic of how the economy grows.”

I’m tired of trickle-down. The trillionaires and billionaires are doing very, very well — you all know it; you’ve all reported it — and in the middle of this crisis. But hardworking people and middle-class people are getting hurt.

And so, I provide for, for example, a tax cut. If you have a child, you get a refundable tax credit. It’s reduced hunger in America by 40 percent, literally, for children. You have the — the whole notion of being able to provide for daycare for your children, getting people back to school, et cetera. It’s all paid for. It’s all paid for.

But — and a lot of these are flat tax cuts that exist within my proposal, and they’re being calculated as if the cost of — of the — of the Child Care Tax Credit is a cost to the government; it’s not. It’s reducing taxes — reducing taxes, not increasing taxes.

Now, part of the problem is I had hoped — I hadn’t planned on, although I kind of anticipated it might happen — I hadn’t planned on the 178-mile top winds hurricanes going into Louisiana and 20 inches of rain in New York and New Jersey, and — and an area as big as the state of New Jersey burning down in the West.

And so, what I had hoped I would be doing, I do what I did in the campaign: I’d be out making the case about what my plan proposal contained. And it’s been very much curtailed by a whole range of things.

And so, I think that it’s understandable — I think it’s understandable — people being frustrated. I think they’re frustrated as well by the fact that — not just members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans — frustrated by, you know, “I thought this was going to be better. I thought everything was working out.” We were — we were moving along on — on COVID-19, and now we have all these people who refuse to get a shot. And now look at the people dying — large numbers of people dying.

So, I guess, I think it’s a totally legit- — obviously, it’s a legitimate question you’ve asked — but I think, putting into context here, it’s going to take some time here.

And I know I always kid you when you all ask me about, “Well, what about — are you going to get A done, B done, C done?” “Well,” I say, “do you want to negotiate?” I’m being a bit facetious, obviously, but here’s the deal: This is going to end up — I believe, we’re going to end up getting both pieces of my economic legislation.

The first piece — the 1.9 — fundamentally changed the structure and the nature of the economy in this country, even though, remember, it got clobbered. It was this — “Oh, this terrible thing, no Republican voted for it.” Well, we got ec- — real economic growth.

Now it — we’re at this stalemate at the moment. And we’re going to have to get these two pieces of legislation passed. Both need to be passed. And they’ll have a profound impact according to not just Joe — not Joe Biden, but according to Wall Street, according to the IMF, according to international organizations.

And so — and then there’s, you know, I’m going to be having a meeting today with the Quad, with the — the leaders of — the leader of India, Japan, and Australia. And we’re going to be talking about Afghanistan, which is a legitimate thing for people to talk about.

But the truth of the matter is, at the end of the day is: We were spending $300 million a day for 20 years. There was no easy way to end that. And we’re now still getting people out, but it’s — it’s really — there was no — no picture-book way to say, “Okay, the war has ended. Let’s get everybody out, and we’ll go home.” No war has ever ended that way, other than there’s been a surrender, and it’s a totally different circumstance.

So anyway, there’s a lot, I’m sure, along the line that there are things I could have done better, but I make no apologies for my proposals, how I’m propo- — how I’m — how I’m proceeding, and why I think, by the end of the year, we’re going to be in a very different place.

Q Mr. President, just to follow up on COVID, if I can, quickly —

THE PRESIDENT: Sure.

Q What do you say to Americans who disregard the new CDC guidance and get a booster shot anyway?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I — I don’t — I’m not sure how they get it, but —

Q There are people who go into stores right now and just have got it without any high-risk situation or underneath that age limit; it happens around the country as we speak.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think what’s going to happen is you’re going to see that, in the near term — or we’re probably going to open this up anyway. They’re constantly looking at — we’re looking at both Moderna and J&J. And we’re both — as I said in the speech — in addition to that, we’re also looking to the time when we’re going to be able to expand the booster shots, basically, across the board.

So, I would just say: It’d be better to wait your turn in line, wait your — you know, in line — wait — wait your turn and to — to get there.

Q Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Ken.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. When you met with congressional leaders this week, you told them to try to find a number less than $3.5 trillion on the reconciliation package that they could live with. What is that topline number in your mind as you deliberate these considerations?

And then, separately, you mentioned how you’re going to pay for some of these provisions. Senator Wyden has a proposal on annual taxes on billionaires’ unrealized gains. Is that a proposal that you support?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I do. I — look, I support a lot of these proposals. We don’t need all the things I support to pay for this, but I do support that.

Look, you — if you — if you get a — if you file with a W-2 form, you know, the IRS has access to your bank account and your bank tells you how much you made, what you have in there, and, you know — and they estimate your tax.

Well, if you — if you have no income, you’re just — it’s all — if you have no earned income and it’s all investment income, it’s hard to figure out what the hell you — excuse me — what the heck you have.

And that’s why we have to — and I know some people don’t like this — that’s why we have to rehire some IRS agents. And not to do anything, not to try to make people pay something they don’t owe — just say, “Hey, step up. Step up and pay like everybody else does.

Look, I really mean this. Look at my whole career — and I come from, you know, the corporate state of America. I just think it’s about just paying your fair share, for Lord’s sake.

Now, we can argue whether or not the corporate tax should go back up to 26 and a half percent or 28 or 24, but the idea that 50 — 50 major corporations in America, making a sum total of $40 billion pays zero? Come on. Come on. It’s just wrong. It’s just not fair. And I think is beginning to, you know, sink through the ether a little bit here on the part of people.

So, I think there clearly is enough from a panoply of options to pay for whatever it is that folks decide to pay for.

And let me finish by answering the initial part of your question, if I may. The way I look at it is what I’ve been telling my colleagues, and it surprises them sometimes when we — in those rooms. And I don’t know whether you heard, but both meetings went very well. I mean, it was — it was — they were collegial. It — it wasn’t — no one was hollering. Everybody was — you know. And people were hanging out afterwards in the Oval, and — anyway — both the progressives, as well as the — the moderates.

And one of the things that I think is important for — and I’m trying to get people to focus on is: What is it you like? What do you think we sh- — no, don’t — forget a number. What do you think we should be doing? Is it appropriate, in your view, to cut taxes for working-class people by providing for daycare, providing for early education, three and four years old? Is it appropriate to do something about free community college or do you want a — means tested? I’m telling them, “What — what are your priorities?”

And several of them, when they go through their priorities, it adds up to a number higher than they said they were for. Because I think this is — we’re getting down to the — you know, the hard spot here. People are having now to go in and look in detail as to what it is specifically they’re for.

It’s a little bit like when we went through — and I’ll end with this — it’s a little bit like when we went through the issue of the bipartisan deal on infrastructure. There were a lot of negotiations on that. And it wasn’t until people were forced to look at: What are you for? Are you for taking care of that highway or bridge in your state or that region — in your region? Are you for doing something about environmental degradation? Are you for something that deals with allowing us to provide for monies to states so that they can, in fact, deal with things like what happened in states where the major utility lines come down? What do we — what do you do to build those back better to pre- — prevent that from happening?

And it’s sort of a — there’s a — and you all speak to all these folks, so — you speak to as many as I do. I find that they’re going, “Huh, I never really thought that through before. I think it makes sense.”

And that’s how we finally got to a bipartisan deal on what is a serious infrastructure proposal that really does a number of things, including — including things where people said, “I don’t want to do anything in the environment,” and then they start thinking, “Well, wait a minute. I have all these diesel buses at home. It would be a hell lot better if we had electric buses. It wouldn’t change the circumstances on boom, boom, boom.”

So, I think this is a process. That’s why I said at the front end that, although we got off to a very fast start with the first piece of legislation, I don’t expect this to be done and us being in a position where we can look back and say, “Okay, did we get it done?” until basically the end of the year.

I don’t mean the vote on the two pieces of legislation related to the economy. But I think it’s just going to take some time.

And look, you know, we’re — my guess is, we all come from similar backgrounds. Remember you used to sit around the table — the kitchen table in the morning, if you had the chance to do that, or dinner at night with your mom and dad and your brothers or sisters. What did people talk about? They talked about, you know, “Are we going to be able to pay the mortgage?” At least my house.

I mean, “What’s going to happen if we have another one of those floods, and then, you know, it blows through here like it did in Queens? What’s going to happen? What are we going to do?”

“And, by the way, I don’t — I don’t — you know — you know, I — I’m just not sure that I want, you know, my son or daughter to — to be going into school when so many people are not vaccinated. I mean, you know, it’s just — you know, I’m not sure I want Kenny to be there doing this…”

But these are practical things people are talking about. And they’re looking down the road, and they’re looking at cost-of-living issues as well. And so what’s the cost-of-living issues?

Well, it’s because we’re in a position where the ability to have the product — the elements of the production of a product that, in fact, need to go into the production of that product, are — are hard to get hold on of because people are in trouble. They’re not able to produce them. They’re not able to get it, or they’re being hoarded. It’s like, you know, what we have with — and we’re making progress, but like what we’re doing with regard to making sure we have the computer chips to be able to keep as — in the vernacular — to keep — you know, build automobiles.

I mean, I think, everybody was kind of surprised when I — I think if I had said to you — I may be dead wrong, but if I had said to you in, say, April that I was going to get all three major manufacturers of American automobiles saying they’re going to go electric, I doubt whether you thought I — that could be done.

Well, we’re out here in the back lawn; they’ve all of a sudden figured it out. They’ve had a bit of an epiphany. And they’ve realized, “Whoa, wait a minute, man. China is investing billions of dollars. China is — they’re getting battery technology. We’re going to be — blah, blah. And this is going to happen anyway.”

And, again, I’ll just conclude by saying: This is a process, and it’s going to be up and down. That’s why I don’t look at the polls — (laughs) — not a joke — because it’s going to go up and it’s going to go down. It’s going to go up.

And hopefully at the end of the day, I’ll be able to deliver on what I said I would do: one, bringing the country together on a few and very important things, like on infrastructure; getting us in a position where we can have some — some coherent policy, relative for foreign policy, where there is agreement; moving us in a position where we’re able to actually generate the kind of change in the dynamic of how we grow the economy — not eliminate the super wealthy, not at all, but allow the working class and the middle class to be able to build out and up. And that can be done.

And like I said, every time I hear — and I drive my staff crazy — every time I hear, “This is going to cost A, B, C, or D,” the truth is, based on the commitment that I made, it’s going to cost nothing because we’re going to raise the revenue — raise the revenue to pay for the things we’re talking about.

And we’re going to give and — and right now, if you take a look at the — the reconciliation piece, a trillion dollars of that is tax cuts, not raising anybody’s taxes; it’s tax cuts. People are going to be paying less taxes.

But the people who pay less taxes are going to be working-class folks. It’s going to put women back to work. It’s going to put people in situations where they have — as I know you’re tired of me saying, but I’ll never — my dad’s constant refrain: Just give people a little breathing room — a little breathing room.

Thank you, guys.

10:26 A.M. EDT

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