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President Joe Biden and CNN host Anderson Cooper during a televised town hall event in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) President Joe Biden and CNN host Anderson Cooper during a televised town hall event in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Joe Biden and CNN host Anderson Cooper during a televised town hall event in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg February 18, 2021

President Joe Biden’s critics were quick to jump on his words about vaccine supply during his Feb. 16 CNN town hall event in Milwaukee.

Perhaps too quick.

Kayleigh McEnany, former President Donald Trump’s press secretary, tweeted that Biden said "there was no vaccine when he came into office." 

"That is abjectly false," McEnany said.

In a Facebook post that said "Biden lied," the conservative Media Research Center quoted Biden, "It’s one thing to have the vaccine, which we didn’t have when we came into office, but a vaccinator; how do you get the vaccine into someone’s arm?"

These are examples of Biden’s political opponents taking words out of context.

To fill in the parts they left out, here is the full exchange between Biden and CNN host Anderson Cooper, with his words about vaccine supply highlighted, with our commentary in italics.

You can judge his meaning for yourself, but it’s clear to us that Biden didn’t mean there were no vaccines available before he took office.

Cooper: "When is every American who wants it going to be able to get a vaccine?"

Here Biden talks about the amount of vaccine he found when he took office:

Biden:  "By the end of July of this year.  We have — we came into office, there (were) only 50 million doses that were available.  We have now — by the end of July, we’ll have over 600 million doses — enough to vaccinate every single American." 

Cooper:  "When you say ‘by the end of July,’ do you mean that they will be available or that people will have been able to actually get them?  Because Dr. Fauci —"

Biden: "They’ll be available."

Cooper:  "They’ll be available."

Biden: "They’ll be available."

Cooper: "Okay."

Here Biden emphasizes the shortfall on the distribution end and contrasts that with the millions of doses that could have been sent out:

Biden:  "Here, look, we — what we did — we got into office and found out the supply — there was no backlog.  I mean, there was nothing in the refrigerator, figuratively and literally speaking, and there were 10 million doses a day that were available.

"We’ve upped that, in the first three weeks that we were in office, to significantly more than that.  We’ve moved out — went to the Pfizer and Moderna, and said, ‘Can you produce more vaccine and more rapidly?’ They not only agreed to go from 200 to 400 — and they’ve agreed to go to 600 million doses.  And that’s — and they’re — and we got them to move up the time because we used the National Defense Act to be able to help the manufacturing piece of it to get more equipment and so on."

Cooper:  "So if, end of April — excuse me, end of July, they’re available to actually get them in the arms of people who want them, that will take — what? — a couple more months?"

Biden: "Well, no, a lot will be being vaccinated in the meantime. ...In other words, it’s not all of a sudden 600 million doses are going to appear.  And what’s going to happen is: It’s going to continue to increase as we move along, and we’ll have — we’ll have reached 400 million by the end of May and 600 million by the middle of — by the end of July."

Here in the portion that critics focused on, when Biden again draws a contrast between having the vaccine, and having a way to get it to people. But he already acknowledged that the vaccine was being distributed before he was inaugurated.

"And the biggest thing, though, as you remember when you and I — no, I shouldn’t say it that way, "as you remember" — but when you and I talked last, we talked about — it’s one thing to have the vaccine, which we didn’t have when we came into office, but a vaccinator — how do you get the vaccine into someone’s arm?  So you need the paraphernalia.  You need the needle, and you need mechanisms to be able to get it in.  You have to have people who can inject it into people’s arms."

Cooper:  "That’s been one of the problems is just getting enough people."

Biden:  "Yes, now we have — we have made significant strides increasing the number of vaccinators.  I’ve — I issued an executive order allowing former retired docs and nurses to do it.  We have over 1,000 military personnel.  The CDC is — I mean, excuse me, the — we have gotten the National Guard engaged."

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In Context: What Joe Biden said about the vaccine supply he found when he took office