Biden’s 2021 remarks on the role of COVID-19 vaccines in hurricane preparedness misrepresented in social media posts
Disaster areas are prone to disease outbreaks, due to factors such as crowding in shelters and poor sanitation. COVID-19 vaccines mitigate public health risks associated with disaster areas, as they are highly effective at reducing a person’s risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people in affected zones stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines, to reduce their likelihood of becoming sick with COVID-19 and needing medical care.
Misrepresents source: Biden didn’t tell people to get vaccinated to protect themselves from hurricanes. Instead, he urged people to get COVID-19 vaccines to protect themselves from COVID-19 in the event of a hurricane. This is because disaster-hit areas are prone to disease outbreaks and access to healthcare in such areas can become difficult, creating public health risks.
In late September 2022, Hurricane Ian hit several parts of the U.S., leaving a trail of destruction, with Florida and South Carolina being the most affected areas. Around the same time, social media posts began to appear, suggesting that U.S. President Joe Biden told people to get COVID-19 vaccines because it would protect them from Hurricane Ian. These posts commonly included a video clip in which Biden is heard saying:
“Let me be clear: If you’re in a state where hurricanes often strike — like Florida or the Gulf Coast or into Texas — a vital part of preparing for hurricane season is to get vaccinated now. Everything is more complicated if you’re not vaccinated and a hurricane or a natural disaster hits.“
Others made this claim explicitly, including prominent individuals, such as Anthony Sabatini, a member of Florida’s House of Representatives, who tweeted “Don’t listen to Biden” and that “Getting a COVID vaccine won’t protect you from #HurricaneIan”. He also posted a screenshot of this tweet on Instagram.
Contrary to the impression that these relatively new social media posts give, the video clip of Biden isn’t recent. It’s actually a recording of Biden’s remarks dating back more than a year ago to August 2021, given before a briefing from the FEMA Administrator, Homeland Security, and COVID-19 Response Teams. Biden’s full remarks can be read here on the White House’s website. Indeed, a simple Google search using Biden’s quote turns up the same link to the White House website.
Biden’s more recent remarks regarding Hurricane Ian, on 27 September 2022, made no reference to vaccination.
More critically, apart from sowing confusion regarding the timeline of his 2021 remarks and Hurricane Ian, the posts also misrepresented Biden’s words. While Biden has been criticized for making numerous verbal gaffes, it’s not the case in this instance, as these posts claimed or implied. By reading his full remarks, it becomes clear that Biden urged people to get vaccinated because disaster areas tend to be particularly prone to disease outbreaks for several reasons, such as crowding in shelters and poor sanitary conditions.
This, combined with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, would have been likely to pose a great risk to public health, if many people in hurricane zones were unvaccinated. Furthermore, people in hurricane zones struggle to obtain adequate nutrition and shelter, and may have little to no access to healthcare services. This means that those who catch COVID-19 and become seriously ill may be at a greater risk of dying.
Studies have shown that the COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at reducing a person’s risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. Vaccination can also reduce virus transmission to some degree, although it’s less effective now due to the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants like Omicron. Therefore, COVID-19 vaccines help to mitigate the indirect effects of hurricanes on human health. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines:
“Staying up to date on vaccines makes it less likely that you will be sick with COVID-19 while sheltering or evacuating from a hurricane, and less likely to need medical services while hospitals are under strain from the natural disaster.“
In summary, social media posts claiming that Biden told people to get COVID-19 vaccines to protect themselves from hurricanes are misleading, as they ignore the context of the quote and misrepresent his words. This claim was also fact-checked by PolitiFact, USA Today, and AFP, which found the claim to be false.