Psaki Defends Biden’s Description of ‘Pandemic of the Unvaccinated’

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday defended President Joe Biden’s description of the COVID-19 pandemic as cases and hospitalizations among the vaccinated soar.

Psaki, who recently got the disease despite having received a primary regimen and a booster shot, recounted during a briefing in Washington that she only suffered minor symptoms, an experience she attributed to being vaccinated.

Psaki then claimed that unvaccinated people are 17 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and 20 times more likely to die.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers said in a preprint study that hospitalization rates for COVID-19 between Jan. 24, 2021, and July 24, 2021, were 17 times higher in unvaccinated persons, but that gap has closed more recently as the Omicron virus variant emerged and vaccine effectiveness waned. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, citing unpublished data, alleged last month that unvaccinated people are 20 times more likely to die with COVID-19 than vaccinated people who had also received a booster.

“Those are significant, serious statistics. So, yes, the impact for people who are unvaccinated is far more dire than those who are vaccinated,” Psaki said.

“I think the president has said, as have we a number of times, that there will be breakthrough cases, there will be people who get COVID, here, at different media organizations, at companies around the world, around the country who have been vaccinated, but there is a significant difference between being hospitalized or dying and being vaccinated with more mild symptoms,” she added.

Statistics from hospitals across the country show the proportion of patients listed as having COVID-19 who got a vaccine have risen over time. In New Jersey this week, for instance, officials said nearly one in three such patients were vaccinated, while some New York hospitals are recording half of patients being vaccinated.

The Biden administration, though, has downplayed the significant drop in effectiveness of vaccines’ against infection and waning effectiveness against severe disease, and has urged Americans to get a booster, pointing to data that indicate some of the lost protection is restored by an additional shot.

Biden has referred to the situation multiple times as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” using the phrase as recently as last week.

“There is no excuse, no excuse for anyone being unvaccinated. This continues to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated. So we got to make more progress,” he said during a speech in Washington.

He also falsely said that many unvaccinated people who get COVID-19 “will experience severe illness” and said that the unvaccinated “are taking up hospital beds and crowding emergency rooms and intensive care units.” Most people who contract COVID-19 do not require hospitalization, especially since the Omicron variant became dominant. Additionally, most hospital beds in many states are taken up by non-COVID patients.

Biden has received pushback for his remarks, which haven’t changed as the new variant emerged.

“This is not a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’ and way too many in government are trying way too hard to instill fear in the population and pit American against American,” Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) said last month. “It’s not leadership. Far from it! This is the perfect example how a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Zachary Stieber

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Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.

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