Sep 16, 2020
Joe Biden Coronavirus Vaccine Speech Transcript September 16
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden held a press conference on September 16 to discuss the development of a coronavirus vaccine and the challenges that will come with distribution of a vaccine. Read the transcript of his speech here.
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Joe Biden: (00:28)
Good afternoon, everyone. As some of you know, just concluded an hour-and-a-half long briefing with seven of our nation’s top public health experts on the state of the pandemic, the steps we need to curb the spread of the virus, and the challenges of distributing a safe and effective vaccine once one is identified. Before I turn to those issues, let me say a few words about the president’s comments last night.
Joe Biden: (00:59)
Even before acknowledging to Bob Woodward on tape that he was fully informed on the gravity of the danger related to COVID-19, he refused to warn the American people. Again, last night, in a television town hall, the president revealed in no uncertain terms the lack of seriousness with which he continues to take this pandemic. Nearly eight months after this crisis, on the doorstep of 200,000 American deaths, President Trump has refused once again to take responsibility or to take action. By his own admission, he continued to lie about COVID-19. He doubled down on the catastrophic mistakes that he’s made. And perhaps worst of all, he made clear that he still doesn’t have a plan to bring us out of this crisis. He even said, and I quote, a lot of people think that masks are not good, undercutting the easiest, most effective means we have for reducing the spread of this disease.
Joe Biden: (02:03)
This virus is still taking nearly a thousand lives a day. The forecasts show that those numbers are likely to climb this winter. But incredibly, Donald Trump insists that he wouldn’t have done anything differently. Not one thing. Last Friday, we learned that another one of the thousands of Americans died due to this virus, and it continues to rise. And the very same day that we reported a thousand deaths on Friday, in the very same day, Canada reported that not one person died of COVID-19 in Canada. Trump wouldn’t have done anything differently?
Joe Biden: (02:41)
If you’re a parent in America preparing for another day that your child can’t attend school; if you are grieving the loss of a son, a daughter, a mother, a father, a husband, or wife; if you’re a small business owner who is on the brink of total bankruptcy, who can’t open or can’t go back to work because the virus still is spreading in your community, how does it make you feel to hear the president say he wouldn’t have done anything differently?
Joe Biden: (03:10)
And if he gets four more years, why should we expect anything to change? All the president had to offer last night, President Trump, was the same weak and feckless inaction, the same lies and empty promises that we’ve seen from the very beginning. He still won’t accept any responsibility. He still won’t offer a plan.
Joe Biden: (03:33)
And last night, he repeated what he’d said so many times before, that even if he continues to offer only failing indifference, someday the virus is going to go away by a miracle. Even if he does nothing, it’s going to go away by a miracle. It won’t go away like a miracle. In fact, even if we get a vaccine, it will not be available for most of the population until well into 2021.
Joe Biden: (04:03)
We’re heading into a very dangerous autumn. The fact that the University of Washington model, which the White House has previously touted, projects that cases and deaths are going to spike this November, and an additional, by 215,000 Americans, they say are going to die. Begin the spike in November. But by the first of the year, 215,000 will be dead, additional. That’s more than have already died. We need leadership right now to prevent that from happening.
Joe Biden: (04:38)
The same university the model shows, the University of Washington model shows that if there’s universal masking, these deaths could be projected, deaths could be cut in half. We could save between now and the end of the year a hundred thousand lives. Let’s assume they’re off by half on all of this, 50,000 lives, 150,000 dead. Donald Trump’s own director of CDC told him wearing a mask is a single most important step we can take to curb this virus. Here’s what he said. He said, I might go so far as to say that this face mask, and he held up a face mask, not this one, is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine. End of quote.
Joe Biden: (05:29)
And I spoke to the experts today about additional steps we can take to prevent needless deaths and suffering between now and a universal vaccine being made available. Uniform national guidelines, they said, and standards on social distancing that can be applied in particular circumstances of states and communities based on their particular circumstance. More effective approaches on testing and tracing. If we do these things between now and January, we could save even more lives.
Joe Biden: (06:01)
Last night, Donald Trump indicated he has no interest in doing these things. Folks, the president’s first responsibility is to protect the American people, and he won’t. It’s utterly disqualifying.
Joe Biden: (06:18)
I also spoke to the experts this morning about the paramount importance of preparing now for swift, organized, and free distribution of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine when it arrives. And I’m profoundly grateful to the scientists and the researchers working tirelessly to ensure that a safe and effective vaccine becomes a reality as soon as possible. These scientists carry the hopes of our nation, our entire nation and the entire world, and when their work comes to fruition, and it will, there will be no doubt it will save lives.
Joe Biden: (06:58)
But scientific breakthroughs don’t care about calendars any more than the virus does. They certainly don’t adhere to election cycles, and their timing, their approval, and their distribution should never, ever be distorted by political considerations. They should be determined by science and safety alone. A vaccine would offer a way back to normalcy and a path toward better days for all of us, not only here but around the world. But it’s not going to happen overnight. Once we have it, it’s going to take months to distribute it to the entire population.
Joe Biden: (07:36)
I’m more hopeful than ever in the power of science to get us there. One thing is certain. We can’t allow politics to interfere with the vaccine in any way. Americans have had to endure President Trump’s incompetence and dishonesty when it comes to testing and personal protective equipment. We can’t afford to repeat those fiascos when it comes to a vaccine, when it occurs. The stakes are too high. American families have already suffered and sacrificed too much.
Joe Biden: (08:10)
So let me be clear. I trust vaccines. I trust scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump. And at this moment, the American people can’t either.
Joe Biden: (08:24)
Last week, Senator Harris and I laid out three questions this administration is going to have to answer to assure the American people that politics will not play a role whatsoever in the vaccine process. If Donald Trump can’t give answers and the administration can’t give answers to these three questions, the American people should not have confidence. But if they can, they should have confidence in the transparency they need to trust the vaccine and adopt it in numbers that will make a difference.
Joe Biden: (08:54)
First question, what criteria will be used to ensure that a vaccine meets the scientific standard of safety and effectiveness? What’s the criteria? Second, if the administration green-lights a vaccine, who will validate that the decision was driven by science rather than politics? What group of scientists will that be? And thirdly, how can we be sure that the distribution of the vaccine will take place safely, cost-free, and without a hint of favoritism? The fact of the matter is, development of a vaccine is only part of the battle. Distributing a vaccine to the entire population is as complex and challenging as one of the most sensitive military operations.
Joe Biden: (09:43)
I’ve been calling for an effective distribution plan to be laid out for months. If I’m elected president, I’ll begin by implementing an effective distribution plan from the minute I take office. That’s what I discussed with the experts in the briefing today. They laid out a clear plan. They include a detailed timetable for when people will get the vaccine, clear delineation of priority of populations to get the vaccine, a specific means and mechanism for shipping and storing vaccine at appropriate temperatures. Two of those vaccines, if they come forward, they’d have to be stored and shipped at 70 degrees below zero.
Joe Biden: (10:26)
The division of responsibility at every level of government has to be clear, and I will provide the leadership necessary to carry out that plan. I’ll level with the American people. I’ll take responsibility, and I’ll support, rather than tear down the experts responsible for the day-to-day execution of the plan. I’ll simply follow the science. With satisfactory answers to these three questions that Senator Harris and I have laid out, every American, including me and my family, can have confidence in a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.
Joe Biden: (11:06)
This isn’t about politics. It’s about saving lives. It’s about getting back to our loved ones and our friends, making sure they’re safe. It’s about getting our economy back on its feet, getting back to the movie theaters and restaurants and ballparks. It’s about getting back to our lives and getting America up off the mat. I’m confident we can and will be united in that pursuit, no matter when that breakthrough emerges in vaccines, no matter when that hope bears fruit. That’s what America does at its best. We unite. We do it together. I’m confident we’ll be able to do it. I want to thank you. God bless our scientists and researchers and our frontline workers. And may God protect our troops. I’ll be happy to take some questions now, if that’s okay. Let me get my list here. Everybody’s sitting. Okay. ABC. Mary.
Thank you, Mr. Vice President. You just said that when it comes to a vaccine, you don’t trust Donald Trump. Is there a risk that that message, that questioning the president on a vaccine, could prevent people from trusting the science, from trusting a vaccine when there finally is one?
Joe Biden: (12:33)
No, because they know he doesn’t have any respect for scientists. He basically said it. You saw what he said when he was out in California about wildfires. Scientists don’t know, and it’s going to go away like a miracle. It’s necessary so people can trust the vaccine. And that’s why I said that you have to have this board of scientists who are going to say, this is why we think this is a good vaccine, why it’s approved, and it has to be total transparency. So scientists outside the government know exactly what is being approved, the context in which it’s being approved, and why it’s being approved. I think it’s the only thing that takes care of that.
For a vaccine to work, though, to be effective, you do need a certain amount of the population to be willing to take it.
Joe Biden: (13:15)
You’re saying, “Don’t trust the president. Trust me if I’m elected.”
Joe Biden: (13:19)
No, I’m not. I’m saying, I’m saying trust- [crosstalk 00:13:21].
Are you confident that enough Americans will buy in?
Joe Biden: (13:22)
Trust the scientists. Trust the scientists. It’s one thing for Donald Trump to say the vaccine is safe. Okay. Then give it to the board of scientists. Have total transparency so independent operators, scientists and companies go out and take a look at it. And what did you base that decision on? What did you do? Did you pressure the head of the FDA? Did you pressure whomever? I’m not saying he would or will. But that’s what has to happen because you know yourself, you all know the polls better than I do. The American people right now don’t trust what the president says about things relating to science.
And if the scientists say a vaccine under the president’s watch is safe and effective, people take it?
Joe Biden: (14:08)
Absolutely. Do it. Yes. If those three questions I laid out can be answered, yes. Absolutely.
Joe Biden: (14:18)
Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Just a quick follow up on that. You say that you don’t trust the president. Does that mean you also don’t trust the CDC and the FDA currently?
Joe Biden: (14:36)
No. I don’t trust some of the people, like the fella who just took a leave of absence from the CDC. He didn’t run it, but he was the spokesperson for it. But there are some … When I met with the seven scientists today on the screen here in this room, they told me the people that they had worked with in the CDC and the FDA and all the various agencies, and there’s some very, very good people there in the ranks, the everyday folks there. They’re not every day. They’re scientists. But the people who do the daily work in there. And there’s some very, very good people.
Joe Biden: (15:09)
But you know from other items that they’ve been quashed into things they’ve said, and they’ve been pressured, the heads of those agencies, politically appointed, some of them, have been in fact, moved. Moved to say, yes, we can do this or that, or this will work, or that will work. It’s a simple proposition. If a vaccine is ready to go, it should be totally transparent, the basis upon which that decision was made. What scientists looked at it within the government and outside the government, and said, “This is a useful, safe vaccine to take.”
Joe Biden: (15:48)
And so that’s all I’m saying, and that’s going to be necessary, I’d respectfully suggest, no matter what I said in this process. Because all the polling data shows now it’s something like only 37% of American people say, if Trump said, it’s okay .. This is the guy, the same guy that said inject bleach. This is the same guy that said you want to keep hurricanes from getting to the United States? Why don’t we drop a nuclear weapon on them? I mean, there’s a reason why they’re not so certain.
A quick question on the economy. The Fed today announced that their projections for unemployment are actually going to be lower than expected. In polling, we see time and again that President Trump has an edge over you on the economy. Why do you think that is?
Joe Biden: (16:30)
Well, because I don’t think that, I’ve been out of office for four years and they don’t … It’s a long time, four years ago. We actually created more jobs in the last three years of our administration than he created in the first four years of his administration. We actually had more equitable distribution among middle class folks and the like. There were fewer people at risk.
Joe Biden: (16:50)
But I think it’s a matter of my being able to communicate my position on jobs and training and what I would do. And for example, the World Trade Organization, he loves to batter us around on. We’ve supported the World Trade Organization, just ruled that his trade policies are illegal. Well, guess what? We went in with 14, 15, 16 times at the WTO, and we won every single time. Now, why should any American remember that? That was five, six, seven, eight years ago. So part of it is reminding people and laying out for them what my plan for economic recovery is.
But if people have questions about the economic fallout from the pandemic now, you have said that you would have acted earlier. What do you say to people who might question how the economic impact could have been different? Even if you acted earlier, the social distancing and the closings would still be in place.
Joe Biden: (17:42)
Well, not necessarily because you wouldn’t be having the high rates of reinfection that we have now. You wouldn’t be having a thousand people a day die. You’d be able to open … Look, we need national guidance as to the basis upon which you can open up. And it varies within state to state. So you may very well be able to open up in a rural area, not an area that is a metropolitan area or vice versa because of the degree to which the virus is rampant in that area. We’ve not set anything out. We’ve not laid out … This administration has not laid out the criteria. There’s no national criteria. What’s the national criteria for opening schools? They still don’t have one. You need a national criteria, and you need it to be able to be sure that you can open safely and securely.
Joe Biden: (18:32)
You can have social distancing. You can have the wearing of masks. You’re going to have smaller classes. You need more teachers. A whole range of things. But why won’t he lay out the guidance? And even when the CDC initially had stronger guidance, what happened? Talk about political manipulation. Said, no, no, no, no. Don’t put those out. Don’t put those out. Because the president was then saying, by the way, testing just causes more. It causes more cases to show. It’s about being honest. You know, he loves to quote Churchill, and he loves to quote Roosevelt. Roosevelt said in a crisis in World War II, he said, it’s going to get worse and worse and worse until it gets better and better and better. And the one thing you have to tell the American people, they’re strong. Give it to them straight, straight from the shoulder. They can handle anything. That’s what I’ll do.
Joe Biden: (19:26)
Thanks, Mr. Vice President. You mentioned the CDC director’s comments this morning about the vaccine and how … I’m sorry, about masks and how critical they are. You’ve previously called for a mask mandate, a national mask mandate. If you were elected, what steps would you take to put that in place, and how would that work?
Joe Biden: (19:50)
Well, first of all, I found it fascinating the president said, “And Biden didn’t put in a mask mandate.” I don’t know how old you are, but yeah, I’m not the president. He’s the president. It’s like, Biden’s problems and these cities are in flames. I’m not the president. He’s the president.
Joe Biden: (20:10)
I would call all the governors to the White House and say, and because there’s a question, I think it can be answered in the positive. A question of whether I can mandate over state lines that every single state has to comply. Our legal team thinks I can do that based upon the degree to which there’s a crisis in those states and how bad things are for the country. And if we don’t do it, what happens. But I would make the case. I’d make the case why it’s necessary. I’d have the scientist arrayed to lay out in detail why. And I would go to every governor, and I’d go to governors relating, Republican and Democratic governors, and I’d say, we have to have this national mandate. We must do it.
Joe Biden: (20:57)
And at a minimum, what I would do, I wouldn’t walk around saying masks don’t matter. Like he said at your town hall. I think it was last night. I saw the tail end of it. “Well, you know, you know, masks, you know, people don’t, don’t like masks. Matter of fact, they could be worse.” And I think, don’t hold me to this because I didn’t see it. I just saw it reported. And Stephanopoulos asked why? And he said, because waiters don’t like them. Waiters touch the food and touch the mask. I mean, come on.
But what would happen if, say, a Republican governor pushed back on you on this? How do you get buy-in when it’s become so politicized? Would you sign an executive order?
Joe Biden: (21:38)
Well, the question is whether I have the legal authority as president to sign an executive order. We think we do, but I can’t guarantee you that yet.
But if you did, you would.
Joe Biden: (21:47)
If I did, I would.
Thank you, sir.
Joe Biden: (21:48)
Thank you. Number five. I have to call on my hometown paper, The News-Journal. Meredith?
Sir, in terms of the distribution of the virus, communities of color have been greatly affected. Would they get access to the virus first? How would that work in terms of the distribution of Americans being able to get the virus?
Joe Biden: (22:10)
Based on the proposal laid out by the experts I spoke with today, and the National Science Foundation is coordinating with the CDC and other agencies, they indicate that the first group of people that should get the vaccine, if and when it is available, are people at the greatest risk. And that includes everything from nursing homes to people with serious preexisting conditions that would cause people to be in real trouble. A lot of those people happen to be Black and Brown, happen to be Black and Brown. And so it would be based upon the degree of exposure. It would go first, though, I would argue, but I have a scientific board laid out for me. It would go first, as laid out for me today to first responders, doctors, and nurses, the people who are most needed to have available to deal with our crises, health, as well as physical crises in our communities.
Joe Biden: (23:14)
That would be the first, and it would move to the least. Now, one thing that hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t want to … And I am not a scientist, although I hope I’m well-informed on this issue. There have been no tests yet on children, so children, ironically, may be the last people to get the vaccine because it’s going to take time, and they indicated to me in 2021, to be able to do the kind of testing on children. Children are less likely to die, although they can. And it’s more likely that their teachers and the elderly grandparents, et cetera, would be exposed. So the first would go to the people most susceptible, but children are going to have to be part of this. But there’s a lot more work that has to be done there. But no trials done yet on children.
And today the government released a plan on how they would, or a loose plan on how they would distribute the vaccine. If you’re elected, would you reverse course on the plan that the federal government has already put in place?
Joe Biden: (24:20)
No, they haven’t put one in place for real yet. Number one. Number two, I haven’t seen the detail of it. And maybe. It may be a very good plan as is. But what I would do is make sure that I brought in all of the experts to make sure what is the best and most rational means of distribution.
Joe Biden: (24:39)
Now, look, there are two types of vaccines being worked on now. One is an RNA model that are done by two of the operations. I think Moderna, and I forget what, which one, what, who has the other one? And the other is an adenovirus, which is a way to generate the immune system to respond. One changes the cell structure. The one that deals with the cell … The mRNA, that requires two injections, and it requires to be stored at 70 degrees below zero. So in addition to all of this, there are mechanical issues as to how and where the vaccine, assuming let’s say the Moderna one is picked, assuming that the vaccine is approved, it’s a very, very significant, difficult problem of how you distribute that vaccine.
Joe Biden: (25:35)
For example, you have to ship it in bulk, if it’s the mRNA version. And that means a thousand at a time kind of thing. That means it’s going to go to hospitals and major distribution, medical distribution centers. It’s not going to go to your doctor, and you can’t show up at Walgreens like I did the other night. I didn’t. My doc gave it to me. But my flu shot. But I used to get my flu shot at Walgreens. You can’t do that because you can’t do it in small lots. You have to have two shots, two of them. And so my generic point is there are a lot of not only what is safe to do, but distribution issues that are consequential and matter a lot.
Joe Biden: (26:21)
And so it’s not like, by the way, if I told you tomorrow, if I said, if I were president and said, we have approved the following two vaccines or one vaccine … Well, the vaccines that are likely to be approved so far start off with a group of 10,000 doses all the way to 60,000 doses. Well, there are millions of people. it’s going to take, and then you can get up to several million, but it takes time is what I’m saying. And it has to be done fairly and well. It can’t be based on your tax returns, figuratively speaking. It’s got to be based on who is most vulnerable, who is most vulnerable. Okay? Thank you all so very, very much. Thank you.
Speaker 6: (27:11)
Mr. Biden, do you plan to name anyone to any cabinet position before the election?