The president was adhering to new recommendations issued last week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which, after a torturous and at times contradictory process, recommended extra doses for many who got the German company's immunization more than six months ago.
"Let me be clear. Boosters are important, but the most important thing we need to do is get more people vaccinated," the president said in brief remarks before shedding his jacket and rolling up his sleeve.
Biden, who is the oldest man to serve as U.S. president, dwelled on how he fit into one category of those needing a booster, the 65 years and older age bracket.
"Now, I know it doesn't look like it, but I am over 65 - way over," 78-year-old Biden quipped. "And that's why I'm getting my booster shot today."
Others eligible include long-term care residents and staff, anyone over 18 years old with underlying medical conditions known to make covid more severe and those working in "high-risk settings," a broad category that essentially allows many Americans to decide for themselves whether they need an extra shot.
During a briefing on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that no determination had been made about whether younger White House staff would be eligible for the shots.
Recommendations on whether additional doses are needed for those with the Moderna and single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccinations will be forthcoming, officials said.
Vice President Kamala Harris, at 56, is among the Americans who will have to wait. She received the Moderna shot in late December, and she has not taken a booster, according to her office.
Hours after Biden's announcement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Monday that he, too, has received a coronavirus booster shot.
McConnell, 79, mentioned - as he frequently does when discussing the vaccine - that he survived polio.
"I've been a lifelong champion of vaccinations," McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor. "Mountains of evidence tell us these shots are safe, effective, and dramatically shrink the odds of severe disease or death from covid. Like I've been saying for a month, these safe and effective vaccines are the way to defend ourselves and our families from this terrible virus. They're also how we stay on offense against covid as a country."
He added: "All Americans should speak with their doctors and get vaccinated."
McConnell has been a staunch supporter of the coronavirus vaccine. His vocal advocacy stands in contrast to the ambivalence or outright refusal of some other members of his party to get vaccinated.
Over the summer, Biden indicated that Americans would soon be eligible for booster shots, pending sign-offs from the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC.
But it soon became clear that there was only enough data to provide guidance for those who'd received the Pfizer shots.
The FDA then authorized boosters for those 65 and over along with younger people who are at risk for severe illness, including those"whose frequent institutional or occupational exposure" to the virus puts them at high risk of serious complications. But a key CDC panel suggested a more limited approach, nixing the high risk job designation. Ultimately Rochelle Walensky, the director of the agency, set aside recommendations from her own internal advisers and went with the broader FDA approach.
In explaining why the president got his shot publicly, Psaki acknowledged the zigzagging messages that preceded the official recommendation.
"We want to do everything we can to alleviate any confusion - answer questions people have," Psaki said, with a slide over her shoulder laying out who should get the extra dose.
She added that the president got his booster shot on camera to show that "it's safe, it's effective."
Biden received his first covid shot during the transition in December. He also did that publicly, going to a Delaware medical facility for the jab.
Still, the president seemed aware of the oddity of receiving his vaccine so publicly as the leader of the free world. "Did you ever think the press would come watch somebody get a shot in the old days?" Biden asked the assembled reporters.
"No," replied several.
"Me either," said the president.
Biden fielded questions as the shot was administered, revealing that he did not have any side effects from his first two Pfizer shots.
"Thank goodness," he said.
He noted that first lady Jill Biden, who is 70, hasn't yet received her booster shot - but expects to soon. "I think she's teaching today," Biden said. Jill Biden teaches at Northern Virginia Community College.
As a nurse sanitized the president's upper arm with a wipe, he said pushed back on criticism from some world leaders and public health experts who have criticized the United States for recommending booster shots while many around the world do not have access to their first vaccine doses.
"We are doing more than every other nation in the world combined," the president said, just as the nurse actually administered the dose. "We're going to do our part." Under pressure from world leaders, the U.S. announced last week that it is doubling it's contribution of vaccine doses to roughly 1.1 billion shots.
Biden didn't have a firm answer when asked how many Americans must be vaccinated before the country can return to normal.
"I'm not a scientist," the president said as he stood up and put his suit jacket back on. "But one thing's for sure - a quarter of the country cannot go unvaccinated."
As of Monday afternoon, only 55.4% of eligible Americans were fully vaccinated, according to a Washington Post tracker.
Published : September 28, 2021