Video Shows President-Elect Biden Saying 10 Months Ago He Wouldn't Make Vaccines Mandatory
President Joe Biden announced sweeping new vaccine mandates on Thursday.
Video from late in 2020 shows President Joe Biden saying that he wouldn't make vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory, a position he reversed this week.
Footage shows Biden saying he would not impose a mandate in response to a reporter's question on 4 December, 2020. At the time Biden was President-elect.
"No — I don't think it should be mandatory. I wouldn't demand it to be mandatory," Biden said of the coronavirus vaccine.
"But I will do everything in my power as President of the United States to encourage people to do the right thing and when they do it, demonstrate that it matters," he said.
He then switched to discussing mask-wearing instead, which he also said he would encourage but not require.
Ten months later, on Thursday, Biden said that vaccines would indeed be made compulsory for federal employees, contractors, and many health care workers.
Private companies employing more than 100 people, he said, would also have to mandate vaccines or offer regular testing for staff.
It is a stark departure from the December 202 position. Since then, COVID-19 cases in the US surged in the winter, abated, then picked up again from July.
The more-contagious Delta variant became the most prevalent in the US, and it became clear that some 80 million Americans were determined not to be vaccinated.
On Thursday, Biden said: "We've been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us."
He accused politicians who pushed anti-vaccination rhetoric of "actively working to undermine the fight."
Biden's U-turn reflects the pervasiveness of anti-vaccination misinformation, the depth of America's partisan divide, and the damage being done by the Delta variant.
Back in December 2020, there was widespread hope that the newly developed vaccines would provide America with a way out of the pandemic. As recently as July 4, Biden had entitled his speech to the nation "Celebrating Independence Day, an independence from COVID-19."
But many Americans have continued to hold out against getting vaccinated.
Vaccine misinformation has flooded social media, stirring mistrust of federal government and public health authorities.
In December vaccines were less of a partisan issue. Developed as part of the Trump administration's "Operation Warp Speed," allies of Trump were urging Americans to get the shot.
But some Republican lawmakers and right-wing media figures have since taken a very different stance, pushing vaccine skepticism in what critics say is a bid to stir hostility to the Biden administration.
In areas with a large number of unvaccinated people, hospitalizations are again surging, and the US economic recovery is flattening. Biden's poll ratings on his handling of the pandemic are getting worse.
Biden, sounding exasperated on Thursday, said that he would not allow a stubborn anti-vaccination minority and the politicians abetting them to derail the lives of those who had chosen to get the shot.
"We cannot allow these actions to stand in the way of the large majority of Americans who have done their part and want to get back to life as normal," Biden said.
Republicans were quick to announce their intention to sue Biden over the rules, but legal experts said any challenges were likely to fail.