Joe Biden has expressed optimism that young children would soon become eligible for Covid-19 inoculations, while urging unvaccinated Americans to take the “gigantically important” step of getting their shots as the virus surges across the US.
Speaking at a televised town hall in Cincinnati on Wednesday, hosted by CNN, Biden said that children under 12, who are currently ineligible for the three coronavirus vaccines available in the US, could get shots by August or later in the fall.
Last week, an FDA official told NBC News that Covid-19 vaccine approval for younger children could come by midwinter. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech both launched trials of their Covid-19 vaccines for kids under 12 in March, with results expected in the fall.
“They’re not promising me any specific date, but my expectation, talking to the scientists,” Biden said at the town hall, “is that sometimes, maybe in the beginning of the school year, at the end of August, beginning of September, October, you’ll get a final approval” for vaccinating kids. But, he added, the ultimate decision lay with officials at the FDA and CDC. “I do not tell any scientists what they should do. I do not interfere,” Biden said.
Meanwhile, he said, the CDC would probably recommend that “everyone under the age of 12 should probably be wearing masks in school”.
Responding to a question posed by a Democrat running for school board, Biden said: “That’s probably what’s going to happen. Secondly, those over the age of 12 who are able to get vaccinated – if you’re vaccinated, you shouldn’t wear a mask, if you aren’t vaccinated, you should be wearing a mask.” The CDC currently recommends that “masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated”.
Covid-19 cases have nearly tripled in the US over the past two weeks, and the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases rose to more than 37,000 on Tuesday, up from less than 13,700 on 6 July, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Only 56.2% of Americans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the CDC.
The president expressed frustration that many Americans who were eligible for vaccines were not getting them. “We have a pandemic for those who haven’t gotten the vaccination – it’s that basic, that simple,” Biden said. “If you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized, you’re not going to be in the IC unit, and you’re not going to die.”
Some public health experts pointed out that Biden’s statement was not quite true: although the majority of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are among unvaccinated individuals and “breakthrough” infections among the vaccinated are rare, the virus can still pose a deadly risk to them, especially for the many immunocompromised people for whom vaccines don’t provide adequate protection.
“So it’s gigantically important that we all act like Americans who care about our fellow Americans,” and get vaccinated, Biden said.
The flagging vaccination rates come as vaccine misinformation remains a major issue. Biden recently said that tech giants like Facebook were “killing people” by failing to curb rampant online misinformation about the safety and efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccine.
At the town hall, Biden also made an indirect reference to high-profile conservative personalities at Fox News who are now more openly speaking to their skeptical guests and viewers about the benefits of getting vaccinated. Sean Hannity recently told viewers: “I believe in the science of vaccination” and urged them to take the disease seriously. Steve Doocy, who co-hosts Fox & Friends, this week told viewers the vaccination “will save your life”.