In September 2021, a video of U.S. President Joe Biden started circulating on social media along with the claim that the commander-in-chief said that the COVID-19 vaccine would protect people against hurricanes. The video features a brief statement from Biden and then a clip from the Adam Sandler movie “Billy Madison”:
Biden: Get vaccinated to protect yourselves from hurricanes! This is the leader of the world’s most powerful country! pic.twitter.com/WvQiu311k0
— Rich Kids of Tehran (@RKOTOfficial) September 16, 2021
Biden did not say that vaccines protect people from hurricanes. This clip comes from a briefing on hurricane preparedness. The president was saying that it is important for people to get vaccinated in the event they have to evacuate their homes and possibly shelter in close quarters with strangers.
This video was taken on Aug. 10, 2021, as Biden met with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, Chief Medical Advisor and NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall, and COVID-19 Response Coordinator and Counselor to the President Jeff Zients to discuss the state of the COVID-19 pandemic during the approaching hurricane season.
Biden said at the start of the meeting:
Hey, folks. I’ll make a brief opening statement here. I want to thank you, Administrator Criswell, for the job you’ve been doing — outstanding work helping our country navigate what is overlapping challenges we’ve been facing. And you’ve been very busy.
We’ve got wildfires in the West. We’ve got — approaching the peak of Atlantic hurricane season. All across the country, the Delta variant is spreading, as Dr. Fauci and others can tell you, and it’s spreading rapidly — rapidly among the unvaccinated. When these crises intersect, they compound one another — natural disasters and the Delta variant.
And that’s what we’re going to be discussing today with the group I’ve assembled here. We need to be ready to manage our natural disasters caused by hurricanes hitting the Southeast and the environment and with a broad community spread of COVID-19. And the best thing we can do is — to prepare for that is for everyone who is not vaccinated — I know it’s a broken record, and I keep saying it — but to get vaccinated.
The viral clip features a single out-of-context sentence. In the video, Biden can be heard saying, “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.” Just before this sentence, however, he says, “We have to make sure we’re ready to be protected against COVID-19” in the case of a hurricane, and just after this sentence, he says “everything is more complicated if you’re not vaccinated and a hurricane or a natural disaster hits.”
You can see Biden’s full statement here. We’ve included the relevant portion below. The single sentence included in the viral clip is highlighted in bold text:
With the Delta variant, we’re seeing a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Cases and hospitalizations are rising faster in states with low vaccination rates, such as Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, which are the states that — from a hurricane-prone — they’re the states that are most at risk.
And so, we don’t wait until it’s too late. And if, God forbid, a natural disaster strikes, we have to make sure we’re ready to be protected against COVID-19 as well.
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.
If you wind up having to evacuate, if you wind up having to stay in a shelter, you don’t want to add COVID-19 to the list of dangers that you’re going to be confronting. Get vaccinated now so you’re ready for whatever may come this month. And it’s likely some serious hurricanes are going to come this month.
Biden did not say that vaccines protect against hurricanes. The president said that it was important for people to think ahead and to get vaccinated for COVID-19 before they were forced to evacuate in the event of a hurricane. Or, as Reuters wrote at the time: “President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged Americans in hurricane-prone states to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves in case they have to evacuate from their homes, warning that serious hurricanes could strike this month.”
More than a month after Biden held this meeting, social media users took a single sentence from the president’s statement, presented it out of context, and falsely claimed that the president made the absurd claim that vaccines protect against hurricanes.
“Biden Urges Americans in Hurricane-Prone States to Get COVID-19 Shots.” Reuters, 10 Aug. 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-urge-americans-hurricane-prone-states-get-covid-19-shots-2021-08-10/.
President Biden Receives a Briefing on How the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Impacting Hurricane Preparedness. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-KKvYBYIZ4. Accessed 17 Sept. 2021.
“Readout of President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Meeting on Hurricane Preparedness During COVID-19 Pandemic.” The White House, 10 Aug. 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/08/10/readout-of-president-joseph-r-biden-jr-meeting-on-hurricane-preparedness-during-covid-19-pandemic/.
“Remarks by President Biden Before a Briefing from the FEMA Administrator, Homeland Security, and COVID-19 Response Teams.” The White House, 11 Aug. 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/08/10/remarks-by-president-biden-before-a-briefing-from-the-fema-administrator-homeland-security-and-covid-19-response-teams/.