President Joe Biden once again urged Americans to get vaccinated and condemned anti-vax misinformation on Tuesday afternoon, as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads rapidly ahead of the holidays.
The president said that unvaccinated people have “good reason to be concerned,” while those who are vaccinated and boosted are far less likely to be hospitalized or become seriously ill.
While telling vaccinated Americans that they should not panic, Biden addressed the 70.6 million Americans who are completely unvaccinated on Tuesday in strong terms, telling them that their choice not to get the shots “can be the difference between life or death” for anyone they have contact with.
“Your choice is not just about you. Your choice affects other people. You're putting other people at risk, the loved ones, or friends, neighbors, strangers you run into. Your choice can be the difference between life or death. The longer the virus is around the more likely the variants from that may be deadlier than the ones before.”
Biden also directly cited former president Donald Trump, who told supporters on Monday that he has had a booster shot of the vaccine, despite having driven anti-science rhetoric and downplaying the pandemic during and after his time in office.
"I got my booster shot as soon as they were available, and just today former president Trump announced he had gotten his booster shot. Maybe one of the few things he and I agree on."
The White House’s plan to contend with the crisis involves increasing federal support for overrun hospitals, making testing more accessible to Americans, and increasing vaccination resources.
Biden went on to blast the spread of misinformation on social media and conservative cable television, where anti-vax rhetoric has thrived throughout the pandemic.
“Look, the unvaccinated are responsible for their own choices. But those choices have been fueled by dangerous misinformation on cable TV and social media,” he said. “You know these companies and personalities are making money peddling lies, and all that misinformation that can kill their own customers and their own supporters. It's wrong. It's immoral. I call on the purveyors of these lies and misinformation to stop it. Stop it now.”
Biden said 1,000 military medical personnel will be deployed to help hospitals around the country cope with an increase of COVID-19 patients, and that hundreds of ambulances and staff will be available to transport people from overcrowded hospitals to medical facilities with open beds.
“I don’t think anybody anticipated that this was going to be as rapidly spreading as it did,” Biden said, responding to a question on Tuesday about whether the government failed to prepare for how quickly demand for tests has increased in recent days.
The federal government has purchased 500 million at-home rapid tests, which people will be able to order online starting in January, the president said, in addition to the 50 million they announced earlier in December as part of their pre-Omicron winter plan. Federally run testing sites will also be set up, starting in New York City this week, and expanded to other parts of the country where local health authorities request assistance.
Biden plans to continue using the Defense Production Act to assist manufacturers in producing COVID-19 tests to keep up with demand.
“We should all be concerned about Omicron, but not panicked,” Biden said in his speech.
“The best thing to do is to get fully vaccinated and get your booster shot,” he said. “And no, this is not March of 2020. Two hundred million people are fully vaccinated. We’re prepared. We know more.”