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• A vaccine did exist before Biden took office. In fact, Biden himself received his first shot about a month before he took office. In all, more than 20 million shots were administered while Trump was president.
• When Biden took office, the vaccine was not “widely available,” as the White House’s corrected tweet said. Initially, only health care and other frontline workers, along with the most elderly Americans, were eligible.
The White House recently tweeted that when President Joe Biden took office, "there was no vaccine available." After widespread pushback on social media, it retracted the claim.
On May 12, the White House’s official Twitter account sent a tweet that said in part that "when President Biden took office … there was no vaccine available" for COVID-19.
The tweet attracted wide notice, with critics noting, among other things, that Biden himself had received his first vaccination on Dec. 21, 2020, which was about a month before he was sworn in.
On May 13, the White House walked back its original statement, tweeting, "We previously misstated that vaccines were unavailable in January 2021. We should have said that they were not widely available. Vaccines became available shortly before the president came into office. Since then, he’s responsible for fully vaccinating over 200 million people."
The White House erred in its first attempt at framing its record on vaccines. While coronavirus vaccines were often hard for ordinary Americans to get, they did exist and were being administered.
The first vaccination was administered to an employee at Long Island Jewish Medical Center on Dec. 14, 2020, or six days before Biden received his first shot.
Initially, health care workers were among the few categories of Americans who were allowed to receive a vaccination.
On Dec. 22, 2020, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made its recommendations for allocating COVID-19 vaccines at a time when production was first ramping up. The idea was to target the available vaccines to those who were most at risk.
"Phase 1a" was reserved for health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities, or about 24 million people. In "phase 1b," vaccines would be reserved for people 75 years and older and "frontline essential workers" outside of the health care context, a number estimated to total 49 million. In "phase 1c," the vaccine would be given to people between 65 and 74 years, or younger people with certain "high-risk medical conditions," totaling about 129 million people.
The actual prioritization decisions were made individually by states, and many states experienced challenges in distributing and allocating the vaccines they had received, both before Biden took office and after.
On Jan. 8, or 12 days before Biden took office, the Associated Press reported that of 21.4 million doses distributed, only about 5.9 million had been administered. By that point, the vast majority of doses would have been administered to health care workers, residents of long-term facilities, or other very old Americans.
The data shows that vaccinations accelerated during the first few months of Biden’s presidency. All told, in the 37 days before Biden took office, 21.3 million doses were administered. In Biden’s first 37 days in office, 60.5 million doses were administered, or almost triple the number in the equivalent period before he was sworn in.
The White House said, "When President Biden took office … there was no vaccine available."
A vaccine did exist before Biden took office. In fact, Biden himself received his first shot about a month before he took office. In all, more than 20 million shots were administered while Trump was president.
That said, the notion that the vaccine was not "widely available," as the White House’s corrected tweet put it, has better support. Initially, only health-care and other frontline workers, along with the most elderly Americans, were eligible. It took until several months into Biden’s presidency before non-elderly, non-immunocompromised Americans were able to get shots.
We rate the statement False.
White House, tweet, May 12, 2022
White House, tweet, May 13, 2022
White House, tweet, Dec. 21, 2020
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ Updated Interim Recommendation for Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine — United States," Dec. 22, 2020
Our World in Data, daily vaccination data for the U.S., accessed May 16, 2020
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "COVID-19 Vaccines," accessed May 16, 2022
Time magazine, "As Mutated Strains of COVID-19 Surface, Can the U.S. Overcome Its Vaccine Rollout Hurdles?" Jan. 8, 2021
CNBC, "When Dr. Fauci and other experts say you can expect to get vaccinated for Covid-19," Dec. 14, 2020
Los Angeles Times, "Mass confusion over new COVID-19 vaccine rollout, as L.A. senior citizens face weeks of delays," Jan. 14, 2021
American Journal of Managed Care, "A Timeline of COVID-19 Vaccine Developments in 2021," June 3, 2021
Associated Press, "With virus surging, Biden to speed release of COVID vaccines," Jan. 8, 2021
The Dispatch, "Fact Check: The White House Corrects Itself After False Claim About Vaccine," May 15, 2022
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