How Biden’s appeals to US unvaccinated went from beer and cash to ‘illness and death’

How Biden’s appeals to US unvaccinated went from beer and cash to ‘illness and death’
US President Joe Biden speaks about the country's fight against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) at the White House in Washington, US on Dec 21, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

WASHINGTON - US President Joe Biden dispensed unvarnished advice on Tuesday (Dec 21) to the one in four American adults who have yet to be vaccinated for the coronavirus vaccine: The new Omicron variant can make you very sick or even kill you.

A Democrat, Biden took office in January pledging to get the coronavirus under control after his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, played down its severity as deaths rose.

Since then, Biden has varied his approach to the problem.

The White House has enlisted brewers and sports teams, churches and city mayors to counter Republican politicians, conservative commentators and other opponents of vaccine rules and masking guidelines.

In a televised speech on Tuesday, he appealed to the unvaccinated by saying: "Your choice can be the difference between life and death."

The 62 per cent of the overall US population that have been fully vaccinated represent one of the lowest rates among wealthy countries, and deaths per capita are concentrated in US states with low vaccination rates, many of them in the South.

Here's how Biden's message has changed:

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Free beer, unity 

The White House partnered with brewer Anheuser Busch in June to give Americans free beer if 70 per cent of adults got one vaccination shot by the US July 4 Independence Day celebration.

"We need everyone across the country to pull together to get us over the finish line," Biden said then. "I promise you we can do this."

The US hit the July 4 goal in early August.

Cash for jabs the US Treasury allowed state and local governments to dip into Covid-19 relief funds to pay newly vaccinated people US$100 (S$136) in late July.

"I know that paying people to get vaccinated might sound unfair to folks who have gotten vaccinated already," Biden said. "But here's the deal: if incentives help us beat this virus, I believe we should use them."

Get out of the way Biden addressed Republican pushback on mask mandates in Texas and Florida without actually naming names in August.

"Some governors aren't willing to do the right thing to beat this pandemic, and they should allow businesses and universities who want to do the right thing to be able to do it," he said. "I say to these governors ... if you're not going to help, at least get out of the way."

Setting mandates

Biden switched from carrot to stick on Sept 10, when he rolled out widespread vaccine rules for federal contractors, medical workers and big companies. Gentle outreach and bipartisan meetings were not working, the White House said.

While they've been challenged in courts, the rules pushed vaccination rates above 96per cent in the vast US federal workforce.

Striking out at politicians 

After Republican governors, including Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida, vowed to fight the September rules, Biden accused them in mid-September of undermining the public health response.

"This is the worst type of politics ... and I refuse to give in to it," Biden said.

Severe illness and death The White House Coronavirus Task Force, and then Biden himself, warned that unvaccinated Americans face a winter of "severe illness and death" on Dec 16 from the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

While the grim message was criticised as unlikely to change the mind of anyone unvaccinated, the White House was not backing down.

"The truth is the truth," chief of staff Ron Klain said on Twitter.

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