Health Care

Biden blames unvaccinated for US’s COVID-19 slog

President Biden on Thursday admonished unvaccinated Americans and some elected officials for exacerbating the coronavirus pandemic as he laid out new, more aggressive steps his administration is taking to confront COVID-19.

“We have the tools to combat COVID-19, and a distinct minority of Americans, supported by a distinct minority of elected officials, are keeping us from turning the corner. These pandemic politics, as I refer to it, are making people sick, causing unvaccinated people to die,” Biden said in prepared remarks from the State Dining Room of the White House.

“We cannot let these actions stand in the way of protecting the large majority of Americans who have done their part and want to get back to life as normal,” he said. 

Biden captured the frustration expressed by vaccinated Americans, saying the U.S. has made substantial progress against the virus but that the remaining 25 percent of eligible Americans — about 80 million people — who have not yet gotten vaccinated for COVID-19 threaten those gains. He went on to address unvaccinated people directly, telling them that his patience is “wearing thin.”

“My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see? We have made vaccinations free, safe and convenient. The vaccine is FDA approved. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We’ve been patient but our patience is wearing thin and your refusal has cost all of us,” Biden said. “So please, do the right thing.”

Biden, without naming anyone, also accused some elected officials of “actively working to undermine the fight against COVID-19.”

“Instead of encouraging people to get vaccinated and mask up, they are ordering mobile morgues for the unvaccinated dying of COVID-19 in their communities,” Biden said. “This is totally unacceptable.”

Biden’s remarks represented a notable shift in tone as he more sternly confronts Americans who have not got the COVID-19 vaccine and conservative politicians who have spouted anti-vaccine messages or opposed coronavirus-related mandates. Biden has previously sparred with the Republican governors of Texas and Florida for seeking to ban mask mandates in schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

At one point on Thursday, Biden suggested the unvaccinated could reverse U.S. gains in the economic recovery. 

On Thursday, Biden announced a new rule that will require all private employers with upwards of 100 employees to mandate weekly testing as well as plans to require vaccines for most federal workers and contractors. Biden also said he would require employers to provide paid time off to get the vaccine and he urged large entertainment venues to require proof of vaccination or testing to gain entry.

Biden, who two months ago was celebrating the country’s progress against COVID-19 with a large outdoor Independence Day gathering, warned that the U.S. faces a difficult road ahead against the highly contagious delta variant. At the same time, he stressed that the situation would not be as dire as last winter because of the strength of the vaccines in combating serious illness.

“We’re in a tough stretch and it could last for a while,” Biden said.

COVID-19 cases have risen across the U.S. after a low point earlier this year, as the delta variant has spread among unvaccinated Americans. In some areas of the country, such as Texas, COVID-19 patients have overwhelmed hospitals.

Just over 75 percent of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while over 64 percent are fully vaccinated. Polls have shown that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to shun the vaccine.

The White House has spent months encouraging vaccinations by turning to celebrities, reaching younger Americans on social media, backing promotions and incentive programs, and working to address questions and concerns among various communities.

Biden, who was initially hesitant to support vaccine mandates, at the end of July directed federal workers to either attest to their vaccination status or submit to regular testing. The new order announced Thursday is a more aggressive step. The White House said that federal workers will have 75 days to become fully vaccinated, with limited exceptions for religious or medical reasons, and that not doing so could result in disciplinary action including termination. The new Labor Department rule impacting private sector employers is expected to impact millions.  

Biden’s announcement triggered swift backlash from Republicans, with a handful of GOP governors accusing him of federal overreach and vowing to fight him in court.

But polls have showed that a majority of Americans support vaccine mandates, suggesting that most of the public will be on Biden’s side even if he incurs criticism from GOP elected officials and voters.

“We have the tools to combat the virus if we can come together as a country and use those tools,” Biden said, expressing confidence that the U.S. can ultimately get beyond the virus. “We can and we will turn the tide on COVID-19. It will take a lot of hard work and it will take some time.”

Updated at 6:58 p.m.

Tags Coronavirus coronavirus vaccine COVID-19 Joe Biden

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