Return to Transcripts main page


Joe Biden Lays Out Vaccine Distribution Plan; Biden Takes Questions After Giving COVID Vaccine Plan. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 16, 2020 - 16:00   ET



JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A vaccine would offer a way back to normalcy and a path toward better days for all of us, not only here, but around the world.

But it's not going to happen overnight. And once we have it, it's going to take months to distribute it to the entire population.

I'm more hopeful than ever in the power of science to get us there. One thing is certain. We can't allow politics to interfere with the vaccine in any way.

Americans have had to endure President Trump's incompetence and dishonesty when it comes to testing and personal protective equipment. We can't afford to repeat those fiascoes when it comes to the vaccine, when it occurs. The stakes are too high.

American families have already suffered and sacrificed too much. So, let me be clear. I trust vaccines. I trust I scientists. But I don't trust Donald Trump.

And, at this moment, the American people can't either.

Last week, Senator Harris and I laid out three questions this administration's going to have to answer to assure the American people that politics will not play a role whatsoever in the vaccine process.

If Donald Trump can't give answers and his administration can't give answers to these three questions, the American people should not have confidence. But, if they can, they should have confidence in the transparency they need to trust a vaccine and adopt it in numbers that will make a difference.

First question: What criteria will be used to ensure that a vaccine meets the scientific standard of safety and effectiveness? What's the criteria?

Second, if the administration green-lights a vaccine, who will validate that the decision was driven by science, rather than politics? What group of scientists will that be?

And, thirdly, how can we be sure that the distribution of the vaccine will take place safely, cost-free, and without a hint of favoritism? The fact of the matter is, development of a vaccine is only part of

the battle. Distributing a vaccine to the entire population is as complex and challenging as one of the most sensitive military operations.

I have been calling for an effective distribution plan to be laid out for months.

If I'm elected president, I will begin by implementing an effective distribution plan from the minute I take office. That's what I discussed with the experts in the briefing today. They laid out a clear plan.

They include a detailed timetable for when people will get the vaccine, clear delineation of priority of populations that get the vaccine, a specific means and mechanism for shipping and storing vaccine at appropriate temperatures.

Two of those vaccines, if they come forward, they would have to be stored and shipped at 70 degrees below zero. The division of responsibility at every level of government has to be clear.

And I will provide the leadership necessary to carry out that plan. I will level with the American people. I will take responsibility. And I will support, rather than tear down, the experts responsible for the day-to-day execution of the plan.

I will simply follow the science.

With a satisfactory answer to these three questions that Senator Harris and I have laid out, every American, including me and my family, can have confidence in a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. This isn't about politics. It's about saving lives. It's about getting back to our loved ones and our friends, making sure they're safe.

It's about getting our economy back on its feet, getting back to movie theaters and restaurants and ballparks. It's about getting back to our lives and getting America up off the mat. I'm confident we can and will be united in that pursuit

No matter when that breakthrough emerges with vaccines, no matter when that hope bears fruit, that's what America does at its best. We unite. We do it together. And I'm confident we will be able to.

So I want to thank you. God bless our scientists and researchers and our front-line workers.

And may God protect our troops.

I will be happy to take some questions now, if that's OK. Let me get my list here, where everybody is sitting.



ABC, Mary.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

You just said that, when it comes to a vaccine, you don't trust Donald Trump.

Is there a risk that that message, that questioning the president on a vaccine, could prevent people from trusting the science, from trusting a vaccine when there finally is one?

BIDEN: No, because they know he doesn't have any respect for scientists. He basically said it. You saw what he said when he was out in California about wildfires, and scientists don't know, and it's going to go away like a miracle.

It's necessary so people can trust the vaccine. And that's why I said that you have to have this board of scientists that are going to say, this is why we think this is a good vaccine, why it's approved.

And there has to be total transparency, so scientists out the government know exactly what is being approved, the context in which it's being approved and why it's being approved. I think it's the only thing that takes care of that.

QUESTION: For a vaccine to work, though, to be effective, you do need a certain amount of the population to be willing to take it.

BIDEN: That's right.

QUESTION: You're saying: Don't trust the president. Trust me, if I'm elected.

BIDEN: No, I'm not.

QUESTION: Are you confident that enough Americans will buy in?

BIDEN: I'm saying -- I'm saying trust -- trust the scientists. Trust the scientists.

It's one thing for Donald Trump to say the vaccine is safe. OK. Then give it to the board of scientists. Have total transparency, so independent operators and scientists and companies can go out and take a look at it. What did you base that decision on? What did you do?

Did you pressure the head of the FDA? Did you pressure whomever? I'm not saying he would or will. But that's what has to happen, because you know yourself -- you all know the polls better than I do.

The American people right now don't trust what the president says about things relating to science.

QUESTION: And if the scientists say a vaccine under the president's watch is safe and effective...

BIDEN: Absolutely.


QUESTION: ... will take it?

BIDEN: Do it, yes, if those three questions I laid out can be answered, yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: Thank you.

BIDEN: Caitlin with CBS.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

Just a quick follow-up on that.

You say that you don't trust the president. Does that mean you also don't trust the CDC and the FDA currently?

BIDEN: No, I don't trust some of the people, like the fellow who just took a leave of absence from the CDC. He didn't run it, but he was a spokesperson for it.

But there are some -- when I met with the seven scientists today on the screen here in this room, they told me the people that they had worked with in the CDC and the FDA and all of the various agencies.

There are some very, very good people there in the ranks, the everyday folks there. They're not everyday. They're scientists, but the people who do the daily work in there. There are some very, very good people.

But you know from other items that they have been quashed in things they have said, and they have been pressured. The heads of those agencies, politically appointed, some of them, have been, in fact, moved, moved to say, yes, we can do this or that or this will work or that will work.

It's a simple proposition. If a vaccine is ready to go, it should be totally transparent, the basis upon which that decision was made, what scientists have looked at it within the government and outside the government, and said: This is a useful, safe vaccine to take.

And so that's all I'm saying. And that's going to be necessary, I would respectfully suggest, no matter what I said in this process, because all the polling data shows now it's something only like 30- some percent of the American people says, if Trump says it's OK -- this is the guy -- the same guy that said inject bleach.

This is the same guy that said, you want to keep hurricanes from getting to the United States, why don't we drop a nuclear weapon on them? There's a reason why they're not so certain.

QUESTION: A quick question on the economy.

The Fed today announced that their projections for unemployment are actually going to be lower than expected. In polling, we see time and again that President Trump has an edge over you on the economy. Why do you think that is? BIDEN: Well, because I don't think -- I have been out of office for

four years, and they don't -- you know, it's a long time, four years ago.

We actually created more jobs in the last three years of our administration than he created in the first four years of his administration. We actually had more equitable distribution among middle-class folks and the like. There were fewer people at risk.

But I think it's a matter of my being able to communicate my position on jobs and trade and what I would do.

And, for example, the World Trade Organization -- he loves to better us around on we have supported the World Trade Organization -- just ruled that his trade policies were illegal.

Well, guess what? We went in, what was it, 14, 15, 16 times at the WTO, and we won every single time.

Now, why should any American remember that? That was five, six, seven, eight years ago. So, part of it is reminding people and laying out for them what my plan for economic recovery is.


QUESTION: But if people have questions about the economic fallout from the pandemic now, you have said that you would have acted earlier.

What do you say to people who might question how the economic impact could have been different? Even if you acted earlier, the social distancings and the closings would still be in place.

BIDEN: Well, not necessarily, because you wouldn't be having the high rates of reinfection that we have now. You wouldn't be having 1,000 people a day die.

You would be able to open -- we need national guidance as the basis upon which you can open up. And it -- it varies within state to state.

So, you may very well be able to open up in a rural area, and not in an area that is a metropolitan area, or vice versa, because of the -- the degree to which the virus is rampant in that area.

We have not set anything out. We've not laid, as a -- this administration's not laid out the criteria. There's no national criteria. What's the national criteria for opening schools? They still don't have one. You need a national criteria.

And you need it to be able to be sure -- excuse me -- that you can open safely and securely, you can have social distancing, you can have the wearing of masks, you can have smaller classes, you need more teachers, a whole range of things.

But why won't he lay out the guidelines? And even when the CDC initially had stronger guidance, what happened? Talk about political manipulation, said, no, no, no, don't -- don't put those out. Don't put those out.

Because the president was then saying, by the way, testing just causes -- causes more cases to show.

It's about being honest. He loves to quote Churchill, and he loves to quote Roosevelt. Well, Roosevelt said in a crisis in World War II, he says, it's going to get worse and worse and worse, until it gets better and better and better.

And the one thing you have to tell the American people, they're strong. Give it to them straight, straight from the shoulder. They can handle anything. That's what I will do.

CNN, Jessica.


You mentioned the CDC director's comments this morning about the vaccine and how -- I'm sorry -- about masks and how critical they are.

You previously called for a mask mandate, a national mask mandate. If you were elected, what steps would you take to put that in place, and how would that work?

BIDEN: Well, first of all, I found it fascinating the president said: And Biden didn't put in a mask mandate.

I don't know how old you think, but you -- I'm not the president. He's the president.


BIDEN: It's like: Biden's problems, and these cities are inflamed.

I'm not the president. He's the president.

I would make -- I would call all the governors to the White House and say -- and because there's a question -- I think it can be answered in the positive -- a question whether I can mandate over state lines that every single state has to comply.

Our legal team thinks, I can do that, based upon the degree to which there's a crisis in those states and how bad things are for the country, and, if we don't do it, what happens.

But I would make the case. I'd make the case why it's necessary. I'd have the scientists arrayed to lay out in detail why. And I would go to every governor, and I'd go to governors related -- Republican and Democratic governors. And I'd say, we have to have this national mandate. We must do it.

And, at a minimum, what I would do, I wouldn't walk around saying, masks don't matter, like he said at the town hall. I think it was last night. I saw the tail end of it.

That, well, masks -- people don't mask -- don't like masks. Matter of fact, they could be worse. And I think -- don't hold me to this, because I didn't see it. I just saw it reported.

And Stephanopoulos asked, why? And he said, because waiters don't like them. Waiters touch the food and touch the mask.

I mean, come on.

DEAN: But what would happen if, say, a Republican governor pushed back on you on this. How do you get buy-in, when it's become so politicized? Would you sign an executive order?

BIDEN: Well, the question is whether I have the legal authority, as president, to sign an executive order. We think we do, but I don't -- I can't guarantee you that yet. OK?

DEAN: But, if you did, you would?

BIDEN: If I did, I would.

DEAN: Thank you, sir.

BIDEN: Thank you.

Number five.

I have to call on my hometown paper, "The News Journal."


QUESTION: Sir, in terms of the distribution of the virus, communities of color have been greatly affected. Would they get access to the virus (sic) first? How would that work, in terms of the distribution of Americans being able to get the virus (sic)?

BIDEN: Based on the proposal laid out by the experts I spoke with today -- and the National Science Foundation is coordinating with the CDC and other agencies.


They indicate that the first group of people that should get the vaccine if and when it is available are people at the greatest risk. And that includes everything from nursing homes to people with serious pre-existing conditions that would cause people to be in real trouble. A lot of those people happen to be black and brown, happen to be black and brown.

And so, it would be based upon the degree of exposure would go first though, I would argue, but I have a scientific board lay it out for me. It would go first as laid out for me today to first responders, doctors, and nurses. The people who are most needed to have available to deal with our crises, health as well as physical crises in our communities.

That would be a first. And it would move to the least now one thing that hasn't happened yet, and I don't want to -- and I am not a scientist, although I hope I'm well-informed on this issue. There have been no tests yet on children. So children ironically may be the last people to get the vaccine because it's going to take time and they indicated to me in 2021 to be able to do the kind of testing on children.

Children are less likely to die, although they can. And it's more likely that their teachers and the elderly parents -- elderly grandparents, et cetera, would be exposed. So, the first would go to the people most susceptible. But children are going to have to be part of this. But there's a lot more work that has to be done. There have been no trials done yet on children.

REPORTER: In today, the government released a plan how they would -- a loose plan on how they would distribute the vaccine. If you're elected, would you reverse course on the plan that the federal government has already put in place?

BIDEN: No. They haven't put one in place for real yet, number one. Number two, I haven't detail of it. And it may be -- it may be a very good plan as is. But what I would do is make sure that I brought in all of the experts to make sure what is the best and most -- most rational means of distribution.

Now, look, there are two types of vaccines being worked on now. One is an RNA model that are done by two of the operations. I think Moderna and I think -- which one -- who has the other one? And the other is an adenovirus which is a way to generate the immune system to respond. One changes its cell structure.

The one that deals with the mRNA, that requires two injections and it requires to be stored at 70 degrees below zero. So, in addition to all this, there are mechanical issues as to how and where the vaccine, assuming -- let's say the Moderna one is picked -- assuming that the vaccine is approved. It's a very, very significant, difficult scenario with how you distribute it.

For example, you couldn't -- you have to ship it in bulk if it's -- if it's the mRNA version. And that means thousands of time kind of thing. That means it's going to go to hospital and major distribution -- medical distribution centers.

It's not going to go to your doctor, like -- and you can't show up at Walgreens like I did -- I didn't -- my doc gave it to me, but my flu shot -- I used to get my flu shot at Walgreens. You can't do it because you can't do it in small lots. You have to have two shots, two.

And so my generic point is there are a lot of not only what is safe to do but distribution issues that are consequential and matter a lot. And so, it's not like, by the way, if I told you tomorrow, if I said -- if I were president and said, we have approved the following two vaccines or one vaccine. Well, the vaccines that are likely to be approved so far start off with a group of 10,000 doses, all the way to 60,000 doses.

Well, you know, there are millions of people. It's going to take -- and then you get up to several million. But it takes time is what I'm saying. And it has to be done fairly and well. It can't be based on your tax returns, figuratively speaking. It's got to be based on who is most vulnerable, who is most vulnerable. OK?

Thank you all so very, very much. Thank you.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.


You've been listening to the Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaking in Wilmington, Delaware, talking about the coronavirus pandemic, saying that we cannot let politics interfere with the development and distribution of a vaccine, saying that while he trusts the scientists, he does not trust President Trump. Biden there calling the president's handling of the pandemic utterly disqualifying.

Let's bring in CNN's Dana Bash and Dr. Sanjay Gupta to talk about what we heard.

Dana, let's start with the politics for a second. We just heard Biden slam what he called were Trump's incompetence and dishonesty with the coronavirus. He did, however, try to project confidence in the vaccine process and the scientists, kind of a balancing act there.

What did you make of it?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly that, that he was very clearly trying to say that he's not against a vaccine, he's just against rushing the vaccine and that he doesn't trust the president. And I thought when Mary from ABC asked that question, he tried extremely hard to clarify, to make clear that if all of the criteria he laid out today having to do with the science are met, even if it is the Trump administration, he would be all for a vaccine. But he wants it to be based on the science.

It is tricky given the fact that what the Trump administration and the Trump campaign even more specifically has done is taken that comment, a comment that Senator Harris gave to us a couple of weeks ago and tried to make it out to be that they're anti-vaxxers, which, of course, they're not. They just want to make sure that it is safe, and he's trying to get at the heart of a big problem for the president politically, which is his leadership and confidence in that.

TAPPER: Yeah, it was a good question. Mary Bruce, my former producer, who was talking there.

She got, Sanjay, at the point, which is that Democrats are trying to walk this line of criticizing President Trump for politicizing the FDA and the CDC. And I think there really isn't much question without question has publicized some of the process there, pushing Dr. Hahn at the FDA to approve hydroxychloroquine, and there was that other thing with plasma.

But also, their challenge -- Democrats are challenged to not undermine confidence that the public will have when and if there is a vaccine. DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yep. It is -- it is

a fine rope to sort of walk here. You know, it's interesting because he asked these sort of three questions, Vice President Biden said, look, I want to know what the criteria are going to be to say that this is safe and effective if this does get greenlit, talking about vaccine. I want to see how is that validated, and I want to understand the distribution plan.

All fair questions. And I can tell you as you well know, these are the questions that have been asked of the FDA as well, the data monitoring safety board, this independent body. I talked to Dr. Fauci about these questions today. And they're all very fair questions.

I think, you know, they are being addressed. These are the questions that it happens in the backdrop of the fact, as you point out, Jake, that the FDA has had some trust erosion issues with hydroxychloroquine, with convalescent plasma, the CDC has had erosion issues with we're not going to recommend testing asymptomatic people, bad recommendation. They're now walking that back.

But I think with the vaccine, to be fair, a lot of the questions that Vice President Biden raised have been raised already. And they are being addressed. And so everybody wants to make sure this is a safe process but moves as quickly as possible.

TAPPER: And, Dana, a lot of the remarks from the former vice president today focused on how President Trump cannot be trusted on things that President Trump said last night at that town hall at ABC News with George Stephanopoulos where he said a number of things were just completely inaccurate.

Of course, the question is, again, there's a line for the vice president to walk here because the president is the one supposedly who's supposed to be leading us out of this pandemic.

BASH: That's right. And that I think is really the key that we saw from the former vice president today. And it is something that he and his campaign did consistently last week. And that is when the president puts himself on defense as he did again last night with so many of the things that he said that were just false on coronavirus, Joe Biden and his campaign jump up and make sure that they take advantage and go on offense, that they don't leave it just out there.

And the fact is that every single day that the narrative and the discussion is about coronavirus, politically speaking, is a bad day for the president because it is a reminder that this is a referendum on the president's leadership, and one of the most trying times in this country.


That's not where the president wants to be talk -- discussing anything at this point. But that's the world in which we're living.

TAPPER: And, Sanjay, before you go, the president at the town hall yesterday talked about herd mentality as a way out of this crisis. I think he meant herd immunity -- which beyond the gaffe, beyond the fact that he used the wrong term, tell us about herd immunity and what that would mean if that actually were the strategy of the United States, how many people would die?

GUPTA: The headline is it's a bad idea. You don't want to achieve herd immunity through letting the infection run wild in the country. You're talking about somewhere maybe close to 2 million people would die. It would probably take four years to achieve it even if you had a million people becoming infected every week. We're not even sure how long that immunity would last.

As you know, there's been some reports that maybe immunity lasts four or five months. So, you know, people wouldn't want to get infected again, obviously. It's just not an effective strategy. A lot of people would get sick, hospitals would be overrun and it's not even clear that it would work and it would take a long time.

TAPPER: It's basically giving up is what it sounds like to me.

Sanjay, thank you so much. Dana Bash, thank you so much.

I want to bring in CNN's Jessica Dean from Wilmington. She just attended the Biden speech just now.

And, Jessica, you asked Biden to clarify how he would enact a national mask mandate, whether or not he has the power.


TAPPER: We've been getting mixed signals from Biden and Kamala Harris about whether or not they think they have the power. What did he say?

DEAN: Well, Jake, he said that his legal team has looked into it and that they believe as president, he would have the authority to do that when compared to what could happen if there was not a national mask mandate put in place. With that being said, he also told me that he would call all of the governors to the White House and talk with all of them, Democrats and Republicans, and try to get buy-in from them first in order to enact this mask mandate across the country, because, remember, you would need the states to really put this into place as well.

So, he hopes for buy-in. But when I asked him what happens if somebody pushes back, if a Republican governor or someone else pushes back, doesn't want to take part, would he sign an executive order? And he said if he has the legal authority to do so, which his legal team he says believes that he does, that he would sign that executive order mandating masks across the country.

And just a reminder for everyone, Jake, he and Kamala Harris called for that mask mandate back in August. They said they wanted a three- month mask mandate that they believed many lives could be saved.

TAPPER: Yeah. And then they backed off it, said it was a mask guideline or something like that. Now I guess they're back to a mask mandate. DEAN: Right, right. And now -- right.

TAPPER: Thank you so much.

DEAN: Yeah.

TAPPER: Thank you so much, I appreciate it.

DEAN: You're welcome.

TAPPER: The United States just recorded the deadliest single day in a month, 1,293 deaths from coronavirus just yesterday. Yet, on that very same day, President Trump, once again, downplayed the pandemic. He put on full display his lack of understanding of this virus that has killed more than 196,000 Americans so far.

Once again, Trump is saying what administration experts say is just false, this dream like notion that the virus will just go away and even going so far as to embrace this misguided notion of herd immunity, which he mistakenly called herd mentality. But forget the gaffe, focus on what the president is pushing here, because it's an idea that you heard Sanjay just say and other health expert say would lead to a catastrophic loss of life in this nation.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's probably going to go away now a lot faster because of the vaccine. It would go away without the vaccine, George. But it's going to go away a lot faster --

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: It's going to go away without the vaccine?

TRUMP: Sure, over a period of time, sure, with time.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How many deaths?

TRUMP: And you'll develop -- you'll develop herd -- like a herd mentality. It's going to be herd developed and that's going to happen. That will all happen.


TAPPER: Herd immunity, not mentality, herd immunity is allowing the virus to largely run rampant, infecting the majority of the population of this country. Most Americans developing antibodies because they would have been exposed, but experts predict that such a plan, or lack of plan, could lead to the deaths of literally millions of Americans.

But don't take my word for it. Here's president Trump in April back when he was listening to health experts explaining why herd immunity is no solution.


TRUMP: And if we did follow that approach, I think we might have 2 million people dead. If we did the herd, if we went with the herd, as they say, we would have had potentially -- I mean, you see the charts. Nobody knows, nobody will ever know, fortunately.


TAPPER: This as the president once again claims he has a new health care plan ready to go, a claim that frankly we've been hearing for years.