President Joe Biden on Friday accused unvaccinated Americans of slowing US economic recovery and accused some elected officials of actively trying to undermine government efforts to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
Biden’s comments came hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the distribution of Pfizer and BioNTech booster vaccinations to approximately 60 million Americans.
“The vast majority of Americans are doing the right thing,” Biden said in an address to the nation, noting that three-quarters of those eligible have received at least one injection. He criticized the more than 70 million people who have not yet started vaccinating. “And to top it all, there are elected officials who are actively working to undermine the fight against Covid-19 with false information. That is completely unacceptable.”
After a series of disappointing economic reports, economists have lower expectations for the second half of the year. The US economy created just 235,000 jobs in August, well below expectations of 720,000 gains by economists surveyed by the Dow Jones. This week, the Federal Reserve is forecasting GDP growth for 2021 at an annual rate of 5.9%, compared to its previous forecast of 7%.
CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky approved the third dose of the Pfizer vaccine early Friday for people 65 and over, residents of long-term care facilities, and those ages 18 to 64 who have underlying diseases or work in environments at high risk for the virus to spread.
Biden said the CDC’s approval will enable 60 million Americans to receive booster vaccinations, including teachers, healthcare workers and supermarket employees.
“Like many people on the front lines, I worry about the risk of developing COVID in the workplace, while also worrying about the risk of inadvertently passing COVID on to my patients in the clinical setting,” said Dr. Barbara Taylor, assistant dean and professor of infectious diseases at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, said in an email to CNBC.
“Making sure that those at work risk for COVID are protected as much as possible will help make our clinical environment safer and ensure we have enough providers and staff to care for patients,” added Taylor added.
About 100 million people have received the first two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, according to the CDC.
Almost 2.4 million people have already received their third vaccination since the CDC released it to people with weakened immune systems on Aug. 13. U.S. health officials are still evaluating data on boosters from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
“Our doctors and scientists are working day and night to analyze the data from these two organizations to see if and when you need a booster vaccination, and we will keep you informed as the process progresses,” said Biden.
The director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins said Thursday that a decision on the third dose of Moderna and J&J could be made within weeks. He added that the NIH is currently conducting a study to determine the effects of mixing primary vaccine doses from one manufacturer with boosters from another manufacturer.
But although the CDC reports that 55% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against Covid, Biden said the remaining unvaccinated people are stifling economic growth, costing jobs and putting an unnecessary strain on the health system.
Biden enacted major new vaccine mandates on September 9th, affecting private companies and federal employees. Government employees and contractors must immunize themselves against Covid with no alternative to testing, while any company with more than 100 employees must implement vaccine mandates that include medical and religious exemptions.
The requirements will cover two-thirds of all workers nationwide, Biden said, noting that 92% of the country’s active duty service members have been vaccinated. He ordered the shots for the military on August 9th.
“I’m making progress on vaccination regulations wherever I can,” said Biden.
– CNBC’s John Melloy contributed to this article.