Joe Biden Omicron Variant COVID-19 Briefing Transcript

Joe Biden : (00:01)
Good morning folks. Hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving, able to get together with your family and friends, and it was great to see so many families getting together this Thanksgiving after being apart last year, and we have much to be grateful for as a nation.

Joe Biden : (00:22)
When I was elected, I said I would always be honest with you. So today I want to take a few moments to talk about the new COVID variant first identified last week in Southern Africa. It’s called the Omnicron. To their credit, the scientific community in South Africa, quickly notified the world of the emergence of this new variant. This kind of transparency is to be encouraged and applauded because it increases our ability to respond quickly to any new threats and that’s exactly what we did.

Joe Biden : (00:55)
The very day the World Health Organization identified the new variant, I took immediate steps to restrict travel from countries in Southern Africa. But while we have that travel restrictions can slow the speed of Omnicron, it cannot prevent it. But here’s what it does. It gives us time. It gives us time to take more actions, to move quicker, to make sure people understand you have to get your vaccine. You have to get the shot. You have to get the booster. Sooner or later we’re going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States. We’ll have to face this new threat just as we faced those that come before it.

Joe Biden : (01:36)
Today there are three messages about the new variant that I want the American people to hear. First, this variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic. We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we’re learning more every single day. And we’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion. We have more tools today to fight the variant than we’ve ever had before from vaccines to boosters, to vaccines for children five years and older and much more.

Joe Biden : (02:16)
A year ago, America was floundering against the first variant of COVID. We beat that variant significantly and then we got hit by a far more powerful threat, the Delta variant. But we took action and now we’re seeing deaths from Delta come down. Look. We’re going to fight and beat this new variant as well. We’re learning more about this new variant every single day. And as we learn more, we’re going to share that information with the American people, candidly and promptly.

Joe Biden : (02:47)
Second, I know you’re tired of hearing me say this, the best protection against this new variant or any of the variants out there, the ones we’ve been dealing with already, is getting fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot. Most Americans are fully vaccinated but not yet boosted. If you’re 18 years or over and got fully vaccinated before June the first, go get the booster shot today. They’re free and they’re available at 80,000 locations coast to coast. A fully vaccinated booster person is the most protected against COVID. Do not wait. Go get your booster if it’s time for you to do so. And if you are not vaccinated, now’s the time to get vaccinated and take your children to be vaccinated.

Joe Biden : (03:40)
Every child age five or older can get safe, effective vaccines now. While it will be a few weeks before we know everything we need to know about how strongly the existing vaccines protect against new variant, Dr. Fauci is with me today of our medical team, and I believe that the vaccines will continue to provide a degree of protection against severe disease. And as additional protections, please wear your masks when you’re indoors, in public settings, around other people. It protects you. It protects those around you.

Joe Biden : (04:15)
Third, in the event, hopefully unlikely, that updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond to this new variant, we will accelerate their development and deployment with every available tool. I want to reiterate Dr. Fauci believes that the current vaccines provide at least some protection against the new variant and the boosters strengthen that protection significantly. We do not yet believe that additional measures will be needed. But so that we are prepared if needed, my team is already working with officials at Pfizer, and Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson to develop contingency plans for vaccines or boosters if needed, and I will also direct the FDA and the CDC to use the fastest process available without cutting any corners for safety to get such vaccines approved and on the market if needed. And we’ll do that the same way if any modifications are needed or current treatments need to use to help those who get ill with the COVID virus.

Joe Biden : (05:23)
Look. I’m sparing no effort. I’m removing all roadblocks to keep the American people safe. All of this is confusing to a lot of people, but if it’s confusing to you, let me close with this simple message. If you are vaccinated but still worried about the new variant, get your booster. If you aren’t vaccinated, get that shot. Go get that first shot. My team at the White House will provide me with daily updates this week. On Thursday, I’ll be putting forward a detailed strategy outlining how we’re going to fight COVID this winter, not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more. I promised every American that there will always be the latest vaccines available and the boosters shots available to them and for free and everywhere available, every single American, free of charge, and I will keep that commitment.

Joe Biden : (06:22)
But we need to do more than vaccinate Americans. To beat the pandemic, we have to vaccinate the world as well, and America’s leading that effort. We’ve shipped for free more vaccines to other countries than all other countries in the world combined, over 275 million vaccines to 110 countries. Now we need the rest of the world to step up as well. Let me be clear. Not a single vaccine shot America has ever sent the rest of the world will ever come at the expense of any American. I will always make sure that our people are protected first. But vaccinating the world is just one more tool in how we need to meet our moral obligation as Americans and how to best protect Americans as well.

Joe Biden : (07:11)
The Delta variants and now the Omnicron variant all emerged elsewhere in the world, so we can’t let up until the world is vaccinated. We’re protecting Americans by doing that as well. As we continue this effort, let’s remember where we stand. We’re in a very different place as we enter the month of December this month compared to where we were last Christmas. Last Christmas, fewer than 1% of American adults were vaccinated. This Christmas, the number will be over 71% including more than 86% of seniors. Last Christmas, our children were at risk without a vaccine. This Christmas, we have safe and effective vaccines for children ages five and older with more than 19 million children in counting now vaccinated. Last year, a majority of schools were closed. This year, 99% of our schools are open. Let me reiterate once more. We also now have booster shots that provide extra protection. They’re free and convenient.

Joe Biden : (08:19)
There is still time to get your first two shots or your booster shot or get your children vaccinated before Christmas. All three are available can be done before Christmas. If you and your family are fully vaccinated, you can celebrate the holidays much more safely. And given where we were last year, that’s a blessing that none of us should take for granted. We’re throwing everything we can at this virus, tracking it from every angle, and that’s what we have to keep doing. That’s how we reopened our country. That’s how we reopen our businesses. That’s how we reopen our schools. That’s how, even with the pandemic, we’ve generated a record job creation, a record economic growth in this country. We’ve moved forward in the face of COVID-19. We have moved forward in the face of the Delta variant. And we move forward now in the face of the Omnicron variant as well.

Joe Biden : (09:13)
So thank you, may God bless our troops, and I hope you all have, I’ll be speaking before then, but a Merry Christmas as we approach it. Questions. [crosstalk 00:09:23].

Alex: (09:23)
Should Americans be worried, sir?

Joe Biden : (09:25)
Let me call on Nancy Bloomberg.

Nancy Bloomberg: (09:27)
Thank you so much, President Biden. Do you think that other countries will be reluctant to report variants or other strains given the travel ban that you put so quickly on South Africa?

Joe Biden : (09:39)
No, I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen. And again, the reason for the immediate travel ban is there were a significant number of cases unlike any other country, well, the few around South Africa in the world. We needed time to give people an opportunity to say get that vaccination now before it’s going to move around the world. I think it’s almost inevitable there will be at some point that strain here in the United States. But I don’t think anyone’s going to be reluctant to report. We have also moved to do more. For example, we’ve provided more vaccines, as I said, than all other countries in the world combined and we’ve provided significant vaccines as well to South Africa in that region. Matter of fact, South Africa doesn’t need anymore vaccine. They’re having trouble getting it out into people’s arms and the reluctance is there. But no, I don’t think it’s going to have that effect. [crosstalk 00:10:42].

Speaker 4: (10:42)
Mr. President.

Joe Biden : (10:43)
Let me call on Alexis. Alexis. [crosstalk 00:10:48] Alex with Reuters.

Alex: (10:52)
Yes. Thank you so much, Mr. President. I wanted to ask if the U.S.is doing anything to screen internet national travels for this variant and what is being done if anything internally to see if the virus this variant has already arrived?

Joe Biden : (11:05)
Well, there’s a lot being done. I’m going to turn to Dr. Fauci to answer the last question about what’s being done. Doc?

Dr. Fauci : (11:16)
Thank you, Mr. President. We already have in place, when people come into the United States, they have to be tested before they get on and they have to show vaccination documentation. So even before Omnicron came in, we have a situation where we’ll be able to test. And talking about testing, fortunately for us, the PCRs that we mostly use would pick up this very unusual variant that has a real large constellation of mutations. Fortunately for us, that the PCRs that we do, do pick it up.

Joe Biden : (11:50)
And we’re following extremely closely the medical community of the COVID team, any developments as it relates to how severe it is, to how quickly it spreads, how dangerous it is, et cetera. We have more work to do in that area. And Wall Street Journal, Sabrina.

Sabrina: (12:12)
Thank you, Mr. President. The UK, Europe, and a growing number of countries have confirmed cases of Omnicron. Are you considering additional travel restrictions on countries where the variant has been detected? And just separately, you’ve urged Americans to wear masks in indoor public spaces, but many states and cities, including Washington DC, have lifted mask mandates. So are you calling on state and local officials to reinstate mask mandates?

Joe Biden : (12:36)
With regard to the last question, the answer is I encourage everyone to wear a mask when they’re indoors in a crowded circumstance like we are right now unless you’re eating or speaking at a microphone. And secondly, the degree of the spread impacts on whether or not there’s a need for any travel restriction, but I don’t anticipate that at this point. And we’ll see. We’ll see where that works. And so the other Alex doesn’t have a heart attack. I want to call on him. Is it-

Joe Biden : (13:18)
[Crosstalk 00:13:18]

Speaker 7: (13:18)
I’m not an Alex, but I’d love to ask one one question. [crosstalk 00:13:27]

Joe Biden : (13:26)
Okay. Let me ask the other Alex and then you, sir.

Alex: (13:30)
Mr. President, is this the new normal that Americans should expect anticipating future potential variants? Should we expect intermittent travel restrictions and potential drops in the stock market going forward? Do you have any words of reassurance that this won’t become the new normal? And then for both you and Dr. Fauci, Dr. Fauci said earlier on CBS that lockdowns, shutdowns are off the table for restraining public going forward. You said that won’t be part of your plan on Thursday. But why is that? Why are you taking that off the table?

Joe Biden : (14:01)
Well, answer your first question first, the answer is I expect this not to be the new normal. I expect the new normal to be everyone ends up getting vaccinated and the booster shot so we reduce the number of people who aren’t protected to such a low degree that we’re not seeing the spread of these viruses. Now we remain be seen exactly what the elements of this particular strain are. But if there as I hope, then it’s not going to be fundamentally different than in the past. And in terms of… What was the second part of the question?

Alex: (14:36)
Are lockdowns off the table? [crosstalk 00:14:38].

Joe Biden : (14:38)
Yes, for now, yes.

Alex: (14:40)
Why is that?

Joe Biden : (14:40)
Well, because if people are vaccinated and wear their mask, there’s no need for the lockdown.

Speaker 9: (14:47)
So-

Joe Biden : (14:48)
My last question.

Speaker 9: (14:48)
Yes. Going on from that question, we got the Christmas period coming up, huge amount of travel. Would you give any thought to domestic flights requiring tests or vaccine for people getting on planes the same way as they do for international flights?

Joe Biden : (15:03)
Well, at this point that’s not been recommended. I would wait for the scientific community to give me a recommendation on that.

Speaker 10: (15:10)
Are travel restrictions too late to be effective, sir, given that Dr. Fauci says this new variant could already be here?

Joe Biden : (15:15)
You understand the point of the restriction, to give us time to get people to get protection to be vaccinated and get the booster. That’s the reason for it.

Joe Biden : (15:28)
Thank you all so very, very much. I appreciate it. Thank you. And I’m sure I’ll see you between now and Christmas but hope you had a good Thanksgiving. Thanks. [crosstalk 00:15:37]

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