The first emergency use authorizations for COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. were granted by the FDA in December 2020, during the final weeks of the Trump administration. A mass vaccination program followed, and continued under the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, who announced a goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans within the first 100 days of his term in office (later upped to 200 million within the first 100 days, a goal the administration reached successfully).
Throughout 2021, Biden acted as the vaccines’ principle cheerleader, urging all eligible Americans to get vaccinated at their earliest opportunity. Although his numerous public statements about the vaccines tended to be, for the most part, reasonably accurate and cogent in terms of reflecting the guidance of the medical community, on at least one occasion Biden grossly overstated the vaccines’ efficacy.
During an unscripted CNN town hall on July 21, Biden falsely stated that those who had been vaccinated would not get COVID, be hospitalized, or end up in an ICU and die. Here are the relevant quotes from CNN’s transcript of the event, which was anchored by Don Lemon (emphasis added):
LEMON: Really, around the world, but especially around America. New cases are up three times since last month, right? The pandemic is a big concern. Hospitalizations, death rising. So you said last month that this — that the virus is in retreat. Do you still feel that way? Is that still the case?
BIDEN: Well, the virus — look, it’s real simple. We have a pandemic for those who haven’t gotten a vaccination. It’s that basic, that simple. Ten thousand people have recently died; 9,950 of them, thereabouts, are people who hadn’t been vaccinated.
This is a simple, basic proposition. If you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized, you’re not going to be in an ICU unit, and you are not going to die.
But, again, one last thing. We don’t talk enough to you about this, I don’t think. One last thing that’s really important is, we’re not in the position where we think that any virus, including the Delta virus, which is much more transmissible and more deadly in terms of unvaccinated people, the — the various shots that people are getting now cover that. You’re OK. You’re not going to — you’re not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations.
Biden’s statements above clearly contradict the conclusions of medical authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has stated that while vaccines greatly reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19, and reduce the likelihood that those who do become ill will experience severe symptoms and be hospitalized, no vaccines are 100% effective:
- “Vaccine effectiveness studies provide a growing body of evidence that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines offer similar protection in real-world conditions as they have in clinical trial settings, reducing the risk of COVID-19, including severe illness, among people who are fully vaccinated by 90 percent or more.” (CDC)
- “While COVID-19 vaccines are working well, some people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will still get sick, because no vaccines are 100% effective. These are called vaccine breakthrough cases. However, data suggest that vaccination may make symptoms less severe in people who are vaccinated but still get COVID-19.” (CDC)
Biden’s impromptu claims about the efficacy of the vaccines were therefore inaccurate, nor did he acknowledge or correct his mistake. He did, however, more accurately state at another point in the same appearance that “If you’re vaccinated, even if you do ‘catch the virus,’ quote, unquote, like people talk about it in normal terms, you’re — not many people do. If you do, you’re not likely to get sick. You’re probably going to be symptomless. You’re not going to be in a position where your life is in danger.”
Here is the full video of Biden’s July 21, 2021, CNN town hall appearance:
CDC and CDC. “COVID-19 Vaccine Effectiveness.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Oct. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/effectiveness/index.html.
CNN, Jacqueline Howard. “FDA Issues Emergency Use Authorization for Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine.” CNN, https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/11/health/covid-vaccine-fda-eua/index.html. Accessed 8 Nov. 2021.
Interview: Joe Biden Participates in a CNN Town Hall in Cincinnati – July 21, 2021. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7WwDLzG–Y. Accessed 8 Nov. 2021.