Biden Says Vaccine News Is “Great,” But Warns Masks Are Still Needed

President-elect Joe Biden released a congratulatory message to scientists from Pfizer on Monday after news broke that the company had reached an important milestone in producing a vaccine for coronavirus.

“I congratulate the brilliant women and men who helped produce this breakthrough and to give us such cause for hope,” Biden said in a published statement.

But he also cautioned Americans not to become complacent about the news, urging them to continue wearing masks to reduce the spread of the virus and noting that distribution of the vaccine for most of the country “is still months away.”

“This news follows a previously announced timeline by industry officials that forecast vaccine approval by late November,” Biden said. “Even if that is achieved, and some Americans are vaccinated later this year, it will be many more months before there is widespread vaccination in this country.”

“Today’s news does not change this urgent reality. Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, contact tracing, hand washing, and other measures to keep themselves safe well into next year,” the president-elect added. “Today’s news is great news, but it doesn’t change that fact.”

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said on Monday that they had created a two-dose vaccine that was 90 percent more effective in preventing COVID-19 among those who received it versus those who received a placebo. The study is ongoing, and other data could affect final results, but the announcement is largely viewed as positive news in a year that has seen hundreds of thousands of Americans die from COVID-19.

Biden is largely correct, however, in that any vaccine produced (by Pfizer or other companies) won’t be widely available for some time.

In its announcement, Pfizer said they would not file for emergency use authorization or distribute the vaccine until they had observed half of the study’s participants for at least two months to see if there were any adverse health effects from the vaccine. According to Pfizer, they will reach that point later this month.

Even if all goes according to plan, the vaccine will initially be in short supply and may only be distributed to certain groups of people, like those who are elderly or at risk of getting sick, or frontline healthcare workers. States will have logistical planning to set up, too, and many experts don’t believe a vaccine will be readily available to most Americans until the middle of next year.

Current President Donald Trump, like Biden, also celebrated the news of the vaccine’s progress, issuing a tweet earlier in the day.

“STOCK MARKET UP BIG, VACCINE COMING SOON. REPORT 90% EFFECTIVE. SUCH GREAT NEWS!” Trump wrote.

Unlike Biden, however, Trump did not encourage Americans to continue exercising social distancing measures in the interim period before a vaccine becomes available. Indeed, the president has been inconsistent in wearing a mask himself, only doing so in public on rare occasions. In one presidential debate, Trump even mocked Biden for wearing masks during his public appearances.

“Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from them, and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen,” Trump said in October.

Trump has largely viewed wearing a mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus as a political statement against him, telling the Wall Street Journal in June that he viewed those who did so as signaling their disapproval of his presidency rather than acting responsibly in the interests of public health.

The evidence shows that wearing a mask could save thousands of lives between now and when a vaccine becomes available. According to health models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, more than 2,290 individuals are projected to die daily from COVID-19 by the time we reach Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021.. If nearly everyone in the U.S. wore masks, however, that number would likely go down to 1,316 deaths per day.