nbc news Joe Biden
President Joe Biden offered an urgent plea to unvaccinated Americans on Tuesday: Get your shots before it's too late.
"Experts tell us that we're going to see these cases rise in the weeks ahead," Biden, 78, said, adding that the Delta variant is "moving like wildfire through the unvaccinated community and it's heartbreaking, particularly because it's preventable."
What's different about this current spike in cases, the president said, is the country now has the tools to prevent the shutdowns seen in 2020.
Noting that 165 million Americans are fully vaccinated, Biden acknowledged the challenge of counteracting the misinformation concerning vaccines and the virus.
"I know there's a lot of misinformation out there so here are the facts: If you're vaccinated, you are highly unlikely to get COVID-19," the president said, adding that those who are vaccinated and get the virus will most likely only have "very mild" symptoms.
"Vaccinated people are almost never hospitalized with COVID-19," he added.
He ended his remarks by saying the shots weren't a question of politics, but of life or death: "The vaccine saves lives and it could save yours."
Biden's renewed pleas for Americans to get vaccinated came on the heels of a a Monday briefing in which Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the Delta variant "highly contagious."
"To put this in perspective: If you get sick with the alpha variant, you could infect about two other unvaccinated people," Walensky said Monday. "If you get sick with the delta variant, we estimate that you can infect about five other unvaccinated people — more than twice as many as the original strain."
On Monday, Biden announced that the U.S. had reached a goal of 70% of adults receiving at least one dose of the vaccine.
"It's incredible progress, but we still have further to go," Biden said. "If you haven't already, get vaccinated. Let's defeat this virus once and for all."
Last week, the president announced that the country's four million federal employees must get their shots or be forced to submit to regular testing and adhere to strict protocols such as wearing a mask and socially-distancing.
Under the new rules, the nation's federal employees will be required to attest to their vaccination status. If unvaccinated (or if they choose not to attest to their status), they will be required to wear a mask — even if they live in a region without high or subsequent substantial spread — socially distance, and be regularly tested for the virus either weekly or twice weekly. Those who are not vaccinated will also be subject to restrictions on most travel.
Biden touted the federal government's vaccination requirement in his Tuesday remarks, saying, "Even Fox has vaccination requirements," a reference to the conservative-leaning Fox News.
In a briefing last week, the president called the current uptick of COVID-19 cases "an American tragedy," and acknowledged the partisan divide in vaccinations, saying: "This is not about red states or blue states. It's about life and death."
The highly contagious Delta variant is currently sweeping across the country, particularly impacting areas where vaccination rates are low. Areas of the country that supported former former President Donald Trump show the lowest rates of vaccination and higher rates of hospitalization and deaths from the virus.
The administration's push to vaccinate appears to be paying off, with Biden noting that the eight states with the highest current case rates have seen a doubling of the newly vaccinated population every day.
On Tuesday, Biden used his remarks to chide the governors of those states who had banned mask mandates, such as Texas and Florida (which, as the president noted, combine to account for one-third of all new COVID cases in the country)
"What are we doing? COVID-19 is a national challenge and we have to come together to solve it," Biden said, arguing that the private sector and teachers of children not old enough to receive the vaccine should have the right to take health precautions and require masks.
He continued with a message to the governors who are banning mask mandates: "If you aren't going to help, at least get out of the way ... use your power to save lives."