President Joe Biden on Tuesday said Americans who are fully vaccinated can safely celebrate the holidays, even as as the omicron Covid variant rapidly spreads across the U.S. and casts uncertainty over many people’s plans.
The president said although many fully vaccinated people will get breakthrough infections in the coming weeks, they are protected against severe illness and death. People who are fully vaccinated, particularly those who have also received a booster, have high levels of protection against hospitalization, he said.
“We’ll see some fully vaccinated people get Covid, potentially in large numbers,” Biden said. “There will be positive cases in every office, even here in the White House among the vaccinated, but these cases are highly unlikely to lead to serious illness.”
However, Biden warned that people who are unvaccinated have reason to worry about omicron. “You’re at high risk of getting sick, and if you get sick you’re likely to spread it to others, including families and friends,” the president said.
“Omicron is serious and potentially deadly business for unvaccinated people,” Biden warned. The president pleaded with people who have not gotten vaccinated to do so.
“All these people people who have not be vaccinated, you have an obligation to yourselves, to your family and quite frankly – I know I’m going to get criticized for this – to your country. Get vaccinated now, it’s free,” Biden said.
The president said the U.S. is much better equipped today to fight the virus than the country was when the pandemic first hit. “This is not March of 2020,” Biden said, the month when Covid led to lockdowns around the nation and a devastating surge in deaths in epicenters like New York City.
About 61% of people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated against Covid, and around 30% of those people have received a booster dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Biden said the U.S. also has a stock pile of ventilators, masks, gloves and gowns that the administration is ready to deploy to areas in need.
Biden rejected criticism that widespread shortages of at-home testing kits are sign that his administration failed to prepare for a surge in demand over the holidays.
“It was like everybody rushed to the counter — there was a big, big rush,” Biden said. “And I knew that was coming, so what I tried to do is meet with the companies and use the Defense Production Act to get a half a billion more tests to figure out how to get them to their homes, get them on the shelves in the store.”
The White House announced earlier on Tuesday that the U.S. is purchasing 500 million at-home Covid tests that Americans can order for delivery to their homes for free, but deliveries will not start until January. Many Americans seeking at-home tests before holiday travel or seeing their families have found pharmacy shelves empty, and there are widespread reports of long lines for onsite testing.
The Biden administration is also taking measures to support health-care workers, including deploying 1,000 military medical personnel to support hospitals. Many hospitals around the country are already under strain from a wave of delta infections, and public health officials are worried they will get hit next by a wave of omicron patients. The overwhelming majority of Covid patients admitted to hospitals or treated in intensive care units are unvaccinated.
Biden, again, asked people to get vaccinated to help alleviate the pressure on the health-care system. The president warned that every Covid-19 patients in the hospitals “means someone with a heart attack, cancer or other serious illness may not get that bed and that life saving care they need in the hospital.”
“The unvaccinated are responsible for their own choices,” Biden said. “But those choices have been fueled by dangerous misinformation on cable TV and social media.”
“It’s wrong. It’s immoral. I call on the purveyors of these lies and misinformation to stop it — stop it now,” Biden said.