Joseph R. Biden
Address at a Pfizer Manufacturing Site
delivered 19 February 2021, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Albert, thank you very much. Thank you not only for what you do for the -- the credit you give me that I really don’t deserve. This is -- This is a case of life and death. We’re talking about people’s lives.
I want you to know that once we beat COVID, we’re going to do everything we can to end cancer as we know it. I’ve asked Dr. Eric Lander, a renowned Harvard/MIT scientist, to co-lead the Presidential Council of Advisors in Science and Technology, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. These are the White House offices that bring together the country’s top scientists and address our most pressing needs.
They’ll be part of the Administration’s work to develop a DARPA-like advanced research effort on cancer and other diseases, just like there is DARPA in the Defense Department that develops the breakthroughs to protect our country.
This Administration is going to be guided by science -- to save lives and to make lives better. And that’s why I wanted to come here, Albert, to thank you and to thank all the workers here in Kalamazoo. And I’m here to thank my good friend, Governor Whitmer, and she has become a good and close friend. The Governor have been on the frontlines of this pandemic, as well, for a long time, and I think she’s doing an incredible job in a very difficult circumstances.
And Michigan is also fortunate to have my buddy Gary Peters as United States senator, and Debbie Stabenow. Gary is here. Gary has been a workhorse in making sure that we move through this funding to get things done, because he understands better than anyone: It’s about urgency -- the urgency of the moment. So, Gary -- thank you, Senator. Thank you for all you’re doing.
Last week, I toured the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. I met world-class doctors, scientists, and researchers who were critical for discovering the vaccines in record time. I remember when we first started talking about this, asking Dr. Fauci and others. They said, “Well, it could take up to several years, maybe as many as six or eight years, to find -- find a vaccine.” It’s a miracle of science and the brilliant minds that we have around us.
And now it’s a second miracle -- a miracle of manufacturing -- to produce hundreds of millions of doses. Let me say that again: hundreds of millions of doses.
I came here because I want the American people to understand the extraordinary -- extraordinary work that’s being done to undertake the most difficult operational challenge this nation has ever faced.
And let me say parenthetically that it’s not enough that we find cures for Americans. There needs to be cures that the world is able to take part of, because you can’t build a wall or a fence high enough to keep a pandemic out.
On our tour, I met a few of your nearly 3,000 workers, Albert: experts managing ingredients that come in from different cities and states; experts handling 3D modeling and artificial intelligence to ensure that every dose is properly crafted; experts ensuring an environ- -- a sterile environment so that each vial -- each and every one -- is safe and free of contaminants.
All of this is followed by extensive safety and quality control inspection, then careful packaging and labeling. We walked by a freezer farm that then keeps those doses viable so they can be shipped. This is an incredibly complex process. And at every stop, safety is the utmost priority.
The whole process takes teamwork, precision, and around-the-clock focus. Machinists operating some of the most advanced equipment in the world, working side by side with chemists, biologists, pioneering technologies that, less than a year ago, were little more than theories and aspirations.
And it takes a partnership, in our view, between the federal government and all of the companies and universities contributing to the vaccine effort.
Just over four weeks ago, America had no real plan to vaccinate most of the country. My predecessor -- as my mother would say, “God love him” -- failed to order enough vaccines, failed to mobilize the effort to administer the shots, failed to set up vaccine centers. That changed the moment we took office.
I directed Jeff Zients, my COVID-19 Response Coordinator, to lead my Administration’s work with the vaccine manufacturers to buy more vaccines and to speed up delivery. Albert referenced it earlier, and I want to thank him for making it happen. Because we worked together, we’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for all Americans by the end of July. And it doesn’t mean that it’ll be in all Americans’ arms, but enough vaccine will be available by that time. These orders allow facilities like this one to plan ahead, accelerate their production schedules.
Here’s what else we did: When we discovered that vaccine manufacturers weren’t being prioritized when it came to scrutinizing and securing supplies they needed, we fixed that problem and got them what they needed. We also used the Defense Production Act to speed up the supply chain for que- -- for key equipment, like fill pumps and filters, which has already helped increase vaccine production.
In fact, on our tier [sic] -- on our tour today, they showed me a critical piece of machinery they didn’t have before; now, they do. And it’s allowing them to ramp up production.
And as we increase supply, we’re carrying out a clear plan to get shots into the arms of 300 million Americans or more. And I know people want confidence that it’s safe. Well, I just toured, and that’s -- where it’s being made. It takes more time to do the check for safety than it does to actually make the vaccine. That’s how fastidious they are.
And listen to Dr. Fauci. Dr. Fauci assured me the COVID-9 [sic] vaccines were safe. That’s why, several weeks ago, I went through the rigorous scientific review. That’s why I took my vaccine shot publicly to demonstrate to the American people that I know and believe it’s safe. That’s why Vice President Harris also received her shot publicly.
We all know there is some history -- there’s some hesitancy about taking this vaccine. We all know there’s a history in this country of having subjected certain communities to terrible medical abuses in the past. But if there’s one message to cut through to everyone in this country, it’s this: The vaccines are safe. Please, for yourself, your family, your community, this country, take the vaccine when it’s your turn and available. That’s how to beat this pandemic.
And we’re making progress. We deployed more vaccinators, the people who put the vaccine in your arm. We’re now making it possible for retired doctors and nurses to come back and, under the law, administer these shots. We’ve put new vaccinators in the field. These include over 800 medical personnel from our Commissioned Corps at the Department of Health and Human Services, and personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- FEMA -- the Defense Department, the National Guard. We’re literally lining up -- we’re lining up thousands of vaccinators, because it’s one thing to have the vaccine, and it’s very different to get it in someone’s arms.
We’re also creating more places for people to get vaccinated. We’ve provided 3 billion dollars to states, territories, and tribes to create hundreds of new vaccination centers to ramp -- and ramp up the existing ones that now -- that are there.
Right here in Michigan, with Governor Whitmer, FEMA has provided tens of millions of dollars to bolster the state’s community vaccination centers, from the National Guard at the Expo Center here in Kalamazoo, to the TF- -- excuse me, the TCF Center in Detroit, to parking lots and churches across the state.
We’ve worked with governors in California, Texas, New York, and more to come, to stand up massive -- mass vaccine sites in stadiums that will be open 24/7, and arenas and community centers. It’s an effort that’s on top of the federal government covering the full cost for the states’ use of their National Guards for pandemic efforts. And you suggested I do that a while ago, and I promised you I’d do it, and we did it.
We also started shipping vaccines directly to thousands of local pharmacies across the country so eligible folks can get the COVID-19 shot like they would a flu shot.
Here in Michigan, that’s already more than 220 pharmacies, like Rite Aid and Meijers, in more than 130 Michigan cities. And that’s just the beginning. It’s only been four weeks.
And for folks who aren’t near a pharmacy or a mass vaccination center, we’re deploying mobile clinics. These are special vehicles and pop-up clinics that meet folks where they live -- folks who don’t have access to transportation to get the shots.
We’re also supplying vaccines to community health
centers -- federal community health centers -- to reach those who are hit the
hardest: black, Latinos, Native Americans, and rural communities, which have
higher rates of COVID infections and deaths than any other group.
We’re now at a point where we’ve seen the average daily number of people vaccinated nearly double, from the week before I took office, to about 1.7 million average per day getting a shot. We’re on track to surpass my commitment.
You may remember when I said, “In my first 100 days,” just before I was inaugurated -- which seemed like 100 days. But anyway, “The first 100 days,” before I was inaugurated, “that we’d administer 100 million shots in my first 100 days.” But we’re on the path to do that. We’re averaging 1.7 million a day. Soon we’ll be at 50 million, and I’m confident we’ll exceed the number. But that’s just the floor. We have to keep going.
But despite the progress, we’re still in the teeth of a pandemic. New strains are emerging. In a few days, we’ll cross 500,000 Americans who will have died from COVID-19. Five hundred thousand. That is almost 70,000 more than all the Americans who died in World War Two, over a four-year period. All the sorrow, all the heartache, all the pain.
And while we wait for everyone to get vaccinated, we still need you to wash your hands, stay socially distanced, and mask up to help save lives. That’s why, with the authority I have as President, I signed an executive order -- the only authority I have to require this -- to require masking on all federal property, all modes of travel like planes, trains, and buses. And we’ve been calling on governors and mayors and local officials -- Republicans and Democrats -– to institute mask mandates within their jurisdictions, just like Governor Whitmer has done here in Michigan.
Look, I know it’s inconvenient, but you’re making a difference when you do it. Everything we do matters. We need everyone to do their part for themselves, for their loved ones, and, yes, for your country. It’s a patriotic duty.
We need Congress to pass my American Rescue Plan that deals with the immediate crisis -- the urgency. Now, critics say my plan is too big, that it costs 1.9 trillion dollars. So that’s too much. Well, let me ask them: What would they have me cut? What would they have me leave out? Should we not invest 20 billion dollars to vaccinate the nation? Should we not invest 290 million [billion] dollars to extend unemployment insurance for the 11 million Americans who are unemployed so they can get by while they get back to work? Should we not invest 50 billion dollars to help small businesses stay open, when tens of thousands have had to close permanently? Should we not invest -- and, by the way, they make up half the employment in America. Should we not invest 130 million [billion] dollars to help schools across the nation open safely?
Right now, 24 million adults, 11 million children don’t have enough food to eat. And unless you think I’m exaggerating, think of those scenes you’ve seen on the television with cars lined up, which seemed like miles, to wait to have someone put a box of food in their trunk. People never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever thought they would need help, and through no fault of their own, they’re in that circumstance.
If we don’t pass the American Rescue Plan, 40 million Americans will lose [some of their] nutritional assistance through a program we call SNAP, the old food stamp program. Do we not invest 3 million -- 3 billion dollars to keep families from going hungry?
One in five Americans are behind in their rent. One in ten are being in their mortgages. How many people do you know that will go to bed tonight staring at the ceiling, saying, “God, what is going to happen if I don’t get my job, if I don’t have my unemployment check? What’s happened to me? I’m losing my health insurance. What do I do?”
This is the United States of America, for God’s sake. We invest in people who are in need. Do we not invest 35 billion dollars to help people keep a roof over their heads? I could go on, but you get the point. I’m grateful that the Senate and the House are moving quickly. And I’m prepared to hear their ideas on how to make the package better and make it cheaper. I’m open to that.
But we have to make clear who is helped and who is hurt. And my hope is that the Republicans in Congress listen to their constituents.
According to the polls, there is overwhelming bipartisan support. The vast majority of the American people -- more than 70 percent of the American people, with all the polls you all conduct, including a majority of Republicans -- want us to act, and act big and quickly and support the plan.
Major economists -- left, right, and center -- say we should focus on smart investments we can make now in jobs, in our people to prevent long-term economic damage to our nation and to strengthen the economic competitiveness going forward.
In fact, an analysis by the Wall Street firm Moody’s estimates that if we pass my American Rescue Plan, the economy will create 7 million jobs this year. This year.
We’ve also been in constant contact with mayors and governors, county officials, members of Congress -- both parties. Both parties. I’ve met with them in my office; I’ve met with them in -- on the -- on the Internet -- on -- Zooming on with them. Both parties in every state. And guess what? They agree we have to act now.
I got a letter from more than 400 mayors, from big cities and small town. They understand we’re not going to get our economy back in shape and the millions of people back to work until we beat this virus.
That’s why the American Rescue Plan puts 160 million -- billion dollars into more testing and tracing, manufacturing and distribution, and setting up vaccination sites -- everything that’s needed to get vaccines into people’s arms, which is the most difficult logistical effort the United States has undertaken in peace time. It includes 4 billion dollars for new manufacturing plants so we’re ready to manufacture vaccines in the future. We don’t have to wait.
I’m going to close with what I said before: I’ll always be straight with you. I said in my inaugural I’ll be -- “give it to you straight from the shoulders,” Roosevelt said. Because the American people can take the truth. They can handle anything.
I can’t give you a date when this crisis will end, but I can tell you we’re doing everything possible to have that day come sooner rather than later.
And all of you here are doing some of the most important work in this facility, right here, that can be done.
And I know this is personal: I walked in today, and I won’t say who came up to me, but one of the people in this building came up to me and said, “My father-in-law is dying from COVID.” I said, “Can I call?” He said, “No. He couldn’t take a call.” He says, “Keep him in his prayers, please.”
How many of you know somebody who’s in real trouble or has passed? How many people do you know who sat down to breakfast this morning and looked at an empty chair across the table?
You’ve seen the devastation of this virus in your family, your community, but you’re stepping up. You’re saving lives here -- lives of your loved ones, your neighbors, your fellow Americans. You’re showing how this town, this state, this country takes care of our own, leaves nobody behind.
We can do anything when we do it together. I believe we’re on the road. And I promise you, I know we’ll run into bumps. It’s not going to be easy here to the end, but we’re going to beat this. We’re going to beat this.
May God bless you all. And may God protect our troops. And, Albert, thank you and your people for all you do.
Mr. Bourla: Thank you, Mr. President.
President Biden: Thank you.
Question: President Biden, you’ve said that you think by the end of July is when we’ll have enough vaccines for all Americans. But when do you think all Americans, or a majority, will have actually gotten the vaccine?
President Biden: Well, all we got to do is do a little bit of the math. Getting the vaccine and having it available is not the same as putting it in someone’s arms. This is going to be a continuous rolling effort. So we’ll have had -- we will have ordered, much of which will have been distributed, over 600 million doses by the end of July. July 29th is the expected date. That could change. Look at what’s happening with the weather now, for example: It’s slowing up the distribution right now. But I believe we’ll be approaching normalcy by the end of this year. And God willing, this Christmas will be different than the last.
But I can’t make that commitment to you. There are other strains of the virus. We don’t know what could happen in terms of production rates. Things can change. But we’re doing everything the science has indicated we should do, and people are stepping up to get everything done that has to be done.
We’re going to have debates about whether or not -- for example, I can’t set nationally who gets in line when and first. That’s a decision the states make. I can recommend. I can say what I’ve said -- like, I’m the guy that said we should lower it to 65 years of age. I think 35 states have done that, or more. I think that -- for example, I think it’s critically important to get our kids back to school. I think it’s really important because of the psychological damage being done and the loss of time. A kid loses a semester when they’re in fifth grade -- it means they’re not just a semester behind; they may be a year and a half behind. All of the difficulty.
You were at that town meeting I had with that little girl who was worried that, you know, her mommy -- told her mommy she worried maybe she’s going to die. So there’s a lot. I think it’s important we get people back in school.
There’s a difference, for example, according to the science now, between kids between the ages of 3 and probably 12 years old, in terms of whether they can absorb and/or communicate the disease than it is for kids who are 15, 16, 17, and 18 years old who congregate more together. It’s harder in a high school than it is in a grammar school.
We know certain things are necessary: social distancing, smaller class sizes, ventilation, testing, and the possibility that staff, whether it’s the staff taking care of the sanitary conditions in the school, or simply -- you’ve heard me say this before -- bus drivers. To open the schools, we need more buses and bus drivers. We can’t put kids packed in a bus, sitting next to one another.
So we know the things that have to be done. The question is the order in which we do them is going to -- determined on what moves the quickest and where the need is the greatest. Obviously, we still have to focus on first responders, our doctors, our nurses, those delivering the services.
But the reason I bother to bore you with that detail is to try to explain to the American people that this is a process, but we know now the fundamental basic elements. The fundamental basic elements are that, before you get the shot and after -- if you get the shots and after -- social distancing save lives, wearing masks saves lives, making sure that you wash your hands with hot water saves lives. This is not hyperbole. This is not a political statement. It’s a reality. The science has demonstrated that.
We also know that it’s one thing to have a vaccine available. The problem was, how do you get it into people’s arms? There’s not enough people to vaccinate. All the great hospitals in this state, and in my state, they can line up and give people, but they can’t possibly handle the volume that is needed. So what do you do? You get more people qualified to give vaccinations. The quicker you can open up places and that people can come up and demonstrate they’re on -- on the pecking order and they’re ready for their shot, and they’re qualified -- keeping places open 24/7 makes a lot of sense, but you need people to do it.
So we all know the basic things that have to happen. Now, we also know that there are things that intervene. Things happen. Weather. People get ill. People get confused. There’s a lot of people who don’t -- aren’t able.
You know, I -- you’ve heard me say before -- you know, my little granddaughter can use that cellphone of hers to do more in about 12 seconds than I can do it in an hour. But a lot of people aren’t able to -- a lot of people who need the help. They say, “Well, get online.” Well, they don’t have a means to get online. They might not have, you know, the ability to get online, and they may not know how to do it.
Talk about -- everybody is -- you know, most people are within five miles of a pharmacy. Well, if you’re living alone and you’re a 68-year-old woman, and you’re in a minority neighborhood, and there’s no bus service, you might as well be 500 miles away. That’s why we’re leading now -- and, Gary, you talked to me about it -- getting mobile vans to go out.
So we know the kinds of things that have to be done. But there has never ever, ever been a logistical challenge as consequence -- as consequential as we’re trying to do. But we’re getting it done.
And as my mom would say, with the grace of God and the goodwill of neighbors, we’re going to save a lot of lives.
Thank you very much.
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