WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Friday targeted social media platforms like Facebook for allowing the spread of misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines as many Americans’ resistance to getting shots has left wide swaths of the country vulnerable to the more contagious delta variant.
“They’re killing people,” he said as he left the White House for Camp David. “The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people.”
The president’s remark in answer to a reporter’s question came at the end of a week in which the White House began to push back more strongly against misinformation about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, blaming it for some Americans’ unwillingness to get their shots.
Facebook responded by saying it would “not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts,” emphasizing that millions of people have found accurate information about the virus and the vaccines on its platform.
“The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives,” said company spokesperson Dani Lever. “Period.”
Although caseloads remain far below those at the pandemic’s worst moments, the number of infections is increasing in every state, and rising numbers of deaths are expected in the coming weeks.
Roughly half of the country is fully inoculated and the vaccines remain effective against the delta variant, limiting the potential devastation from the growing outbreaks. But the latest infections could herald a wave of unnecessary deaths in the world’s richest nation with the largest stockpile of readily accessible vaccines.
The resurgence of COVID-19 cases represents a setback for Biden, who staked his presidency on ending the pandemic and ushering in an economic recovery. The increases are greatest in areas that favored his rival, former President Trump, reflecting the politicization of the pandemic response in the prior administration, which left many conservatives averse to wearing masks, social distancing and, ultimately, getting vaccines.
Data released this month by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows a widening gap in vaccination rates between red and blue counties. As of April 22, 22.8% of residents in counties that voted for Biden were fully vaccinated, compared with 20.6% in counties that voted for Trump. As of July 6, 44.7% of people in pro-Biden counties were vaccinated, versus 35% in those that favored Trump.
Unlike an increase in caseloads that occurred in April, the current outbreaks are happening at a time when anyone who is at least 12 years old can easily get vaccinated. The country is now averaging 26,300 new cases per day, a 70% increase from the previous week, and 2,790 hospitalizations, a 36% increase. Deaths have started to rise as well, increasing 26% to an average of 211 a day nationwide.