On July 16, 2021, just before boarding Marine One on the White House grounds, U.S. President Joe Biden was asked this question by NBC News reporter Peter Alexander: “COVID misinformation. What’s your message to platforms like Facebook?”
“They’re killing people,” Biden said. “I mean they really failed… Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and they’re killing people.”
One day before Biden’s remarks, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called misinformation surrounding health and vaccines a threat to public health. According to U.S. officials, “deaths and serious illness from the virus are almost entirely preventable because of the vaccines,” The Associated Press reported.
Speaking Thursday, Murthy said misinformation about COVID-19, deemed an “infodemic” by the World Health Organization, was deadly.
“Misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health,” Murthy said during remarks Thursday at the White House. “We must confront misinformation as a nation. Lives are depending on it.”
Given the role the internet plays in spreading health misinformation, Murthy said technology companies and social media platforms must make meaningful changes to their products and software to reduce the spread of false information while increasing access to authoritative, fact-based sources.
Too often, he said, the platforms are built in ways that encourage, not counter, the spread of misinformation.
“We are asking them to step up,” Murthy said. “We can’t wait longer for them to take aggressive action.”
Biden’s assertion that “the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated” echoed statements made earlier in the day by another administration official, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “There is a clear message that is coming through: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” she said at a White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing. “Our biggest concern is we are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalizations and sadly deaths among the unvaccinated.”
In fact, NPR reported, the unvaccinated now account for the vast majority of recent hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19, according to recent government statistics:
“Unvaccinated Americans account for virtually all recent COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths,” said Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator. “Each COVID-19 death is tragic, and those happening now are even more tragic because they are preventable.”
More than 99% of recent deaths were among the unvaccinated, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier this month on NBC’s Meet the Press, while Walensky noted on Friday that unvaccinated people accounted for over 97% of hospitalizations.
Biden’s “They’re killing people” claim, which he uttered twice, prompted an immediate and terse response from a Facebook spokesperson, which was published by The Associated Press:
We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts. The fact is that more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the internet. More than 3.3 million Americans have also used our vaccine finder tool to find out where and how to get a vaccine. The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period.
On July 17, Facebook published a lengthier response to Biden’s remarks.
Note: The name “Marine One” only applies when the president is in the aircraft. The same goes for “Air Force One.”