Dec 2, 2021
Joe Biden Omicron Variant NIH Briefing Transcript December 2
President Joe Biden visited the NIH and gave remarks on the COVID Omicron variant on December 2, 2021. He discussed COVID-19 safety over the holidays. Read the transcript of his speech briefing here.
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Joe Biden: (00:00)
Please. If there’s any audience that I should be standing for, it’s you, not you standing for me, but thank you very much. Good afternoon. In February, I came out here to the National Institute Health, at NIH and to our vaccine research center to thank all of you of the world class doctors, scientists, researchers for the incredible work you’ve done during the pandemic, and developing vaccines, saving lives, giving us hope. Also, continuing to give me advice on developments as they occur. I’ve seen more a Dr. Fauci that I have my wife, we kid each other, but look who’s president? Fauci. But all kidding aside, I sincerely mean it. Today, I’m back to announce our action plan to battle COVID 19 this winter. Not that any of it’s a surprise to any of you, because it’s the combined advice from all of you that we develop this plan, and it doesn’t include shutdowns or lockdowns, but widespread vaccinations and boosters and testing and a lot more.
Joe Biden: (01:36)
There are five key actions that I want to see us take this winter. First of all, first is expanding the nationwide booster campaign with more outreach, more appointments, more hours, more times, and sites to walk in providing booster shots for up to 110 million Americans who are eligible for boosters. And I want you to know parenthetically, I was talking to one of my folks who does polling and national strategy. And he said, “There’s some evidence in one poll.” I won’t mention it because I’m not positive of the number. I was told this as I was leaving the White House, that there is an expectation that 30% of the non-vaxxers, under no circumstances would I get a vaccination, because of the new variant are now saying, “I’m going to get a vaccination.” So we hope that’s true. I hope that’s true. But the second point is that launching new family vaccination clinics, to make it easier for children, parents, and whole families to get vaccinated in one place, and new policies to keep our children in school, instead of quarantining them at home.
Joe Biden: (02:49)
I’ll talk about the detail of each of these in a moment. The third piece of this is making free at home tests more available than ever before, and having them covered by your private insurance plans available in thousands of locations and available community health centers and other sites for the uninsured, who don’t have insurance. Four increasing our surge response team, that our doctors, our nurses, I know people in this audience know incredibly well about what a surge team is, but medical staff and the communities with rising cases and overburdened hospitals and short on personnel. And by the way, they make a gigantic difference. The governors, Republican governors, as well as Democratic governors, contact me when I go into their states, talk about, “Thank you for these surge teams.” Because it really makes a difference in some communities are hit so much harder than others. They just can’t make it without what we’re going to do. I’ll speak to this in more detail in a second.
Joe Biden: (03:52)
The fifth thing we’re doing, we’re accelerate efforts to vaccinate the rest of the world and strengthen the international travel rules for people coming to the United States. My plan and I’m announcing today pulls no punches in the fight against COVID 19, and it’s a plan that I think should unite us. I know COVID 19 has been very divisive in this country, it’s become a political issue, which is a sad, sad commentary. It shouldn’t be, but it has been. Now as we move into the winter and face the challenges of this new variant, this is a moment we can put the divisiveness behind us, I hope. This is a moment when we can do what we haven’t been able to do enough of through this whole pandemic, get the nation to come together, unite the nation in a common per purpose to fight this fires, to protect one, to protect our economic recovery and to think of it in terms of literally a patriotic responsibility, rather than somehow you’re denying people their basic rights.
Joe Biden: (04:55)
The plan I’m announcing today is the plan our scientists and COVID teams have recommended. And while my existing federal vaccination requirements are being reviewed by the courts, this plan does not expand or add to those mandates. A plan that all Americans hopefully could rally around and it should be, and should get bipartisan support, in my humble opinion. And it should unit us, not continue to separate us. Parenthetically, you all know that there literally, as it relates to whether or not we’re going to pay the federal debt, whether we’re going to in fact, have a continued resolution, et cetera. Some of my friends on the other team are arguing that if I don’t commit that there’ll never be any more mandates, they’re going to let us default. In the neighborhood I come from in Claymont they’d look at me and say, “Go figure, go figure.”
Joe Biden: (05:50)
But before I explain each new action in more detail, and I’m not going to embarrass you doc, but I want to thank Francis Collins. You’ve done an incredible job, doc, here at NIH. One of the most important scientists of our time in my view. No, I’m not being solicitous. I think I’m not exaggerating a bit. After I was elected president, Dr. Collins was one of the first calls. I think you’re the second call I made to ask you if you’d stay on. The second call I made. It’s because when I was vice president and I got to know Dr. Collins really well when I was given the opportunity to manage the cancer moonshot initiative. And Dr. Collins is an incredible resource for our nation, and I’m grateful. And I mean this sincerely, I’m grateful for everything he’s done for this pandemic and advancing all kinds of medical breakthroughs, including mapping the human genome.
Joe Biden: (06:47)
He recently announced he’s going to step down as director of the NIH this month after a truly consequential tenure. But the good news really is Dr. Collins going to return to the lab, the National Human Genome Research Institute, and we look forward to his unmatched ability and unlock possibilities that are within our reach. And doc, the bad news for you is you ain’t getting rid of me, man. I’m going to keep calling you all the time because there’s a lot of other things you can do and help me to get done. You just point me in the direction and I’ll follow. I just received a briefing from Dr. Collins and Fauci and Dr. Lawrence tieback, as well as Dr. Julie Ledgerwood and I appreciate it very much. My only regret was it was a short meeting, because I was to come and speak. I think we would all benefit more if we had made my speech short and spent more time with these docs.
Joe Biden: (07:44)
But as they study the Omicron variant, that we have just two cases reported here in the United States. But as I explained on Monday, this new variant is cause for concern, but not panic. We knew there’s be cases of Omicron here in the United States and it’s here. But we have the best tools, the best vaccines in the world and the best medicine and the best scientists in the world. We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion. Just like we beat back COVID-19 in the spring, a more powerful variant, Delta variant in the summer and fall. As a result, we entered this winter from a position of strength compared to where America was last winter. Last Christmas, fewer than 1% of American adults were fully vaccinated. This Christmas, that number will be 72%, including more than 86% of seniors, the most vulnerable population.
Joe Biden: (08:47)
Last Christmas, our children were at risk without a COVID-19 vaccine. This Christmas, we have safe, effective vaccines for children, age five and older, with 20 million children and counting now vaccinated. Last year, majority of our schools were closed Christmas time in that area. Now over 99% of our schools are open, but I pledge to always be straight and give it just straight from the shoulder as President of the United States and tell the American people exactly where we are. So, here it is: experts say the COVID-19 cases are continued to rise in the weeks ahead in this winter. So we need to be ready. You can read the whole plan we’re talking about here at whitehouse.gov, go to whitehouse.gov, and it’s all laid out in detail.
Joe Biden: (09:39)
For now, here are the five key points I want to expand on slightly. We’re expanding our national booster campaign to provide booster shots to all eligible adults. Our docs, and the scientists believe that people who get a booster shot are more protected than ever from COVID-19. I was just told, with a question I got to ask I have been meaning to ask for a long time, whether or not, not just it increases the resistance to the variant that is being dealt with, but it also is stronger. It not only just raises a total, but it is stronger, it makes things more powerful in terms of resisting. And the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA and our top public officials recommend all adults get a booster shot when it’s time. But here’s the deal: more than about 100 million are eligible for boosters, but haven’t gotten the booster shot yet. Folks, if you’re over the age of 18 and you got vaccinated before June the second, six months has gone by, go get your booster now. Go get it now.
Joe Biden: (10:57)
Booster shots continue to be free. We’ve already made available 80,000 locations coast to coast in the United States, of America, 80,000 locations to get the booster. And if you want to know exactly where to go text your zip code to 438829 to find where you can get your booster shot now. And starting today, we’re making it easier than ever to get a booster shot. I’m calling on pharmacies and they’ve been cooperative, big and small, to offer more appointments, more walk-in hours, including on weeknights and weekends. So you can get vaccinated at a time that works best for you and your family. Pharmacies will send millions of texts and emails to remind their customers to return for the booster shots, because they know who got the booster shot at CDC, now they’ve agreed they’re going to send texts to that particular person when their time is up.
Joe Biden: (11:57)
If it’s Pfizer or Moderna, it’s six months, if it’s J&J, two months. And to reach our seniors, we’re also collaborating with the American Association of Retired Persons, AARP, who’ll be reaching out to their 38 million members. They’re going to make an aggressive effort. They’re going to be hosting virtual town halls to answer questions on and even arrange rides for seniors to get their booster shots. And so that will all be coming. My administration will contact the 64 million people on Medicare to remind them to get at their booster shots. We have the ability to do that from the federal level. And just like I did to make it easier for folks to get their first and second shots, I’m providing paid off time for any federal employee who goes to get their booster.
Joe Biden: (12:47)
If the only time they can get the booster where they are, if it’s at such and such a day in the middle of the day, they can go. All they have to do is demonstrate that’s where they went, or they took their son, daughter, husband, wife, mom, dad, they get paid, they don’t get docked their pay. And I’m asking other employers in the private sector to do the same thing. I don’t want you to have to choose between a paycheck and get an additional protection for a booster shot. Now, I want to reiterate, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins believe if you’re worried about Omicron variant, the best thing to do is get fully vaccinated and then get your booster shot when you’re eligible. Excuse me.
Joe Biden: (13:27)
We don’t yet believe that additional measures will be needed, but so that were prepared if needed, my team is already working with officials at Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for other vaccines or boosters. And I’ll also direct the FDA in the CDC to use the fastest process available without cutting corners for safety, to get such vaccines reviewed and approved, if they’re needed. Second, we’re expanding our efforts to vaccinate children ages five and up. For any parent worried about Omicron variant or the Delta variant, get your child vaccinated at one of the 35,000 locations in the country, including doctor’s offices, pharmacies, children’s hospitals, and 9,000 pop-up clinics at schools. If you’re wondering where to go again, visit vaccines.com. And today I’m announcing that we’re going to launch hundreds of new family vaccination clinics across the country. These sites are going to offer vaccinations for the whole family one stop. One stop, children can get vaccinated, parents can get vaccinated to get their first or second shots or their booster shots.
Joe Biden: (14:49)
Family vaccination clinics will be held in community health centers and other trusted locations. Some will be mobile to reach further into hard to reach communities. If it’s booster shots for adults, vaccinations for kids, all the same place at the same time. Now, when we first announced, I said the logistical problem, it wasn’t just we didn’t have enough vaccines when we got into office, but once we got the vaccine, the logistical effort to get all communities and all areas vaccinated was a gigantic logistical undertaking that would make any military proud of being able to do it. But because of the incredible talent, including our military, we got that done, and we can do the same thing now as we continue to expand. We know parents of children under the age of five are wondering when the vaccine would be available for the little ones.
Joe Biden: (15:45)
That’s the question I most get often asked now at functions. We had a function celebrating Hanukah and the Christmas and various things at the White House. The parents coming up to me and they’re saying, “I have a three year old. Am I going to be okay? Is she going to be okay? Or he going to be okay?” And let me say this: I strongly support the independent scientific view of vaccine usage for children under five. We can’t take shortcuts with that scientific work, but I’ll do everything in my power to support the FDA to do this safely and quickly as possible when we get around that point. Vaccinating our children is also critical to keeping our schools open, but while over 99% of our schools are open now, we need to make sure that we keep that throughout the winter, this winter.
Joe Biden: (16:36)
The CDC is now reviewing pioneering approaches we call Test to Stay policies, which could allow students to stay in a classroom and be tested frequently when a positive case in that classroom popped up that wasn’t them. Up to now, you go home when you quarantine. But rather than being sent home and quarantine and be able to stay, because the test will be available and regularly. The CDC will be releasing the latest signs and other findings of the coming weeks so that other schools can learn if there’s any impediments in this practice, they can learn to implement exactly what the best way to do this is, that’s the process. We want our children in school, and we’re going to take new steps to make sure it stays that way. But again, the best step is to vaccinate your children, get them vaccinated.
Joe Biden: (17:35)
The third, this winter, we’re going to make free at home tests more available to Americans than ever before. To better detect and control the Delta variant, I made testing more available, affordable and convenient. I used the Defense Production Act to increase production of rapid tests, including at home tests. When I came in office, none of these tests were on the market. Thanks to our actions and the work of all of you, we now have at least eight at home testing options and prices for those tests are coming down, but it still isn’t good enough in my view. That’s why I’m announcing that health insurers must cover the cost of at home testing so that if you’re one of the 150 million Americans with private health insurance, next month, your plan will cover at home tests. Private insurers already cover the expensive PCR test that you get into the doctor’s office. And now they will cover at home tests as well. Now, for those not covered by private insurance, we’re going to make available free tests at thousands of convenient locations for folks to pick them up and take a test kit home.
Joe Biden: (18:46)
The bottom line, this winter you’ll be able to for free in the comfort of your home and have some peace of mind. This is on top of the 20,000 sites already around the country like pharmacies, where you can go in and get tested for free. We have to keep this going. Fourth, we’re going to continue to help communities that experience rising cases this winter and improve the care for those who get COVID-19. Since this summer, we’ve worked with Republican and Democratic governors, as many Republican governors as Democratic governors to deploy what we call surge response teams. These teams work. They provide needed staff for staff overruns that badly needed staff, where overrun hospitals are handling more patients than they can handle for their emergency rooms and intensive care units who don’t have a personnel available. They help provide lifesaving treatments and communities in need like monoclonal antibody treatments.
Joe Biden: (19:51)
We have over 20 teams deployed now. Today, I’m announcing that we’re going to triple that, more than double. We’re going to get to 60 teams ready to deploy in states experiencing a surge in cases over the course of the winter. I was just with a governor in Minnesota, who’s raving about the positive impact that’s had on his state, but there’s states in the same circumstance. Additionally, we’re increasing the availability of new medications recommended by real doctors, not conspiracy theorists. For example, monoclonal antibody treatments have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization by up to 70% and for unvaccinated people at risk of developing severe disease. We’ve already distributed over three million courses of these treatment to save lives and reduce the strain on hospitals. And where we have promising new antiviral pills on the horizon that could help prevent hospitalizations and death for people infected by COVID-19.
Joe Biden: (20:57)
We’ve secured enough supply of these pills already and early indications are that these treatments will remain effective in the face of Omicron. We don’t know that for sure yet, but that’s the hope and expectation. And like with the distribution of the vaccines, we will ensure that these medicines will be available to the hardest hit communities in America as well. Fifth and finally, as we seen with COVID-19 and the Delta variant, and now with Omicron variant, all that emerged elsewhere. It all came from somewhere else. And ultimately, to beat this pandemic, we need to go to where it came from in the rest of the world. We also need to vaccinate the rest of the world. America, in my view, continues to lead in that effort. We’ve shipped for free more vaccines around the world than all other countries in the world combined, every other country combined.
Joe Biden: (21:57)
Over 280 million vaccines so far to 110 countries, including South Africa, where we delivered all the doses they requested. Now, today I’m announcing that we’ll accelerate the delivery of more vaccines to countries that need it. Pleasure to deliver 200 million more doses within the next 1000 days, on our way to delivering more than one billion, 200 million doses for the rest of the world. Let me be clear: that not a single vaccine dose America ever sends the rest of the world will ever come at the expense of any American. I’ll always make sure that our people are protected first, but vaccinating the world is not just a moral tool, a moral obligation that we have in my view, it’s how we protect Americans. As we’re seeing with this new variant, America’s doing our part and we’ll do more, but this is a global pandemic and everyone needs to fight it together.
Joe Biden: (23:03)
And that includes countries we’re helping that aren’t particularly friendly toward us. Their population are in trouble. To their credit, the scientific community, particularly 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 what we did. On the very day the World Health Organization identified the new variant, I took an immediate step to restrict travel from the countries in Southern Africa. But while we know the travel restrictions can slow the spread of Omicron, they cannot prevent it, but it does give us a little more time to take more precautions at home to prepare. A month ago, we announced requirements that foreign travelers must be vaccinated if entering the United States. This week, I announced an additional action to strengthen international travel rules, to give us more time to stop the spread and study the new variant.
Joe Biden: (24:09)
It used to be that international travel flying, a traveler flying to the United States had to test negatively three days before their departure from that country. Well, I’m announcing today that all inbound international travelers must test within one day of departure, regardless of their vaccination status or nationality. This testing timetable provides an added degree of protection as scientists continue to study the Omicron variant. And we are extending the requirement both internationally and domestically to wear masks for travel on aircraft trains, public transportation through the winter months.
Joe Biden: (24:53)
I’ll close with this. Again, the actions I’m announcing are ones that all Americans can rally behind and should unite in the fight against COVID-19. And they come from a position of strength. We are better positioned than we were a year ago to fight COVID-19. Since day one of my administration, we’ve been doing everything we can to beat this virus. And that’s what we have to keep doing.
Joe Biden: (25:20)
That’s how we keep our country and our businesses and our schools open. And that’s how, even with the pandemic we’ve generated record job creation, 5.6 million new jobs since January 20th, more than any president in American history. We’re on the track to the fastest economic growth in four decades. We move forward in the face of COVID 19 in adult variant, and we’ll move forward in the face of Omicron variant as well, and we’ll do it by keeping the faith and doing it together as the United States of America. Let me close again by saying, God bless our doctors, our scientists, and all of you here at NIH for what you’re doing for the country. And quite frankly for the world. You’re the best. You’re the very, very best, and God bless you all. Thank you for your patience in listening to me. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (26:15)
Speaker 3: (26:15)
Will there be a government shutdown on Friday, sir?
Joe Biden: (26:18)
Speaker 3: (26:18)
How would do it?
Joe Biden: (26:18)
How can you ask such a silly question? Look, I don’t believe that will happen. We have everything in place to be able to make sure there is not a shutdown, unless some individual … I spoke with Mitch McConnell, I spoke with Schumer. There is a plan in place unless somebody decides to be totally erratic and I don’t think that will happen. So I don’t think [inaudible 00:27:01]. Thank you.
Speaker 5: (27:00)
I guess we don’t have to worry about closing [inaudible 00:27:10].
Speaker 6: (27:21)
[inaudible 00:27:21]thank you for answering that question, I [inaudible 00:27:24]. You’re the only one that has all of that. I know you’re [inaudible 00:27:31]. All right. good to see you.
Dr. Fauci: (27:32)
[inaudible 00:27:32] hi. Hey.