President Joe Biden said that Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. agreed to sell more doses of their coronavirus vaccine to the U.S. faster than planned after he invoked federal law that could force their production.
In a CNN town hall event in Milwaukee on Tuesday, Biden touted his administration’s ramp-up of vaccine shipments while also warning that the pandemic won’t soon end.
“We got them to move up time because we used the National Defense Act to be able to help the manufacturing piece of it, to get more equipment,” he said. He appeared to be referring to the Defense Production Act, a law that allows the government to nationalize commercial production in emergencies.
The government announced last week that the two companies would deliver 300 million doses of each of their vaccines to the U.S. by the end of July, enough to inoculate all American adults.
The town hall event — broadcast in prime-time and the first of his presidency — was an opportunity for Biden to encourage Americans to seek vaccination and press for passage of his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan and a $15 minimum wage. He said that people should get a shot when it’s available and they are eligible, regardless of the manufacturer, and predicted that the country would be better off in September, at the beginning of the new school year, than today.
“It’s highly unlikely that by the beginning of next year school, traditional school year in September, we are not significantly better off than we are today,” Biden said. “But it matters — it matters whether you continue to wear that mask, it matters whether you continue to socially distance, it matters whether you wash your hands with hot water. Those things matter.”
He said his administration mischaracterized its own target by publicly promoting a goal of reopening most classrooms for at least one day a week, a benchmark much of the nation has already reached. “That was a mistake in the communication,” he said.
Instead, he said, he hopes to see “a majority” of elementary schools open by the summer, while saying that it will take longer for high schools. He also signaled that teachers should be closer to the front of the line for shots, while adding that it’s up to states to decide.
“We should be vaccinating teachers, we should move them up in the hierarchy,” he told a teacher who asked him why it was safe for schools to reopen when private gatherings are still limited.
Biden lobbied for his coronavirus aid package, which looks likely to pass Congress unilaterally by Democrats under a fast-track process known as budget reconciliation.
“We can’t spend too much — now’s the time we should be spending, now’s the time to go big,” he said. “The vast majority of the serious people say bigger is better now, not spending less.”
Biden was also asked why he’s calling for a $15 minimum wage nationally, even in regions where the cost of living is lower — a provision that has drawn opposition among some Democratic lawmakers.
He said he wants an increase but will impose it “gradually,” without elaborating. “Here’s the deal, it’s about doing it gradually,” he said. “No one should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty.”
He told a Black woman identified as a health-care worker that closing racial disparities in vaccination is also a priority and that he understood reticence to be inoculated in minority communities because “there is some history of Blacks being used as guinea pigs.”
The president reassured a young girl that she was unlikely to contract the virus herself. “You’re the safest group of people in the whole world,” he said. “I wouldn’t worry about it, baby. I promise you.”
The White House announced earlier Tuesday that vaccine shipments to states would rise next week to 13.5 million, from 11 million, while shipments going to pharmacies would double to two million next week. However, White House officials warned governors during a call on Tuesday that bad weather could slow deliveries over the next few days.