Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical advisor, says he “just can’t explain” a White House tweet stating the COVID-19 vaccine wasn’t available when President Joe Biden took office.
Fauci made the remarks Friday to CNN‘s Jake Tapper, who asked him about the since corrected tweet that seemed to falsely give credit to Biden for the vaccine’s development. The exchange comes as the Biden administration seeks to defend its record against withering criticism from political opponents.
During the segment, Tapper pointed to a Thursday tweet from the White House stating that “when President Biden took office, millions were unemployed and there was no vaccine available.”
“But as you know, that’s not true,” said Tapper. “There was a vaccine available, it might not have been widely available, but it was available.”
Tapper said that CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale found that more than 3 million Americans had been fully vaccinated and more than 18 million had at least one shot as of Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021.
“Why is the White House politicizing the pandemic by tweeting out that there was no vaccine available until Joe Biden became president?” asked Tapper. “It’s not true.”
“So you’re talking to the wrong person,” deflected Fauci. “I wasn’t involved in the tweet. I just can’t explain it. Sorry.”
Tapper responded by asking Fauci if he agreed it was important to have facts about the vaccine, “whether it’s from the Trump White House or the Biden White House,” and that the vaccine became available before Biden was sworn in.
Fauci agreed, adding, “I think from a pure accuracy, that’s not a correct statement.”
By Friday afternoon, the White House had corrected the tweet.
“We previously misstated that vaccines were unavailable in January 2021. We should have said that they were not widely available,” the White House said in a follow-up tweet. “Vaccines became available shortly before the President came into office. Since then, he’s responsible for fully vaccinating over 200 million people.”
The vaccine was initially only available to people particularly vulnerable to the virus because of a medical condition, their age or occupation.
Currently, 66.4 percent of the U.S. population, 220 million people, is fully vaccinated, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Biden has seen sagging poll numbers going into the 2022 midterm elections amid high inflation and gas prices. Seeking to stem possible losses, the president and his allies have played up his administration’s handling of the pandemic and how the U.S. has seen record-low unemployment numbers since he took office.
Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment.
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