With a surge in cases coming and tests in short supply, President Joe Biden is emphasizing vaccination as the first and best means of protecting the country from COVID-19.

“If you’re not fully vaccinated, you have good reason to be concerned,” he said during an address at the White House. “You’re at a high risk of being sick. And if you’re sick, you’re likely to spread it to others, including friends and family … almost everyone who has died from COVID-19 over the past several months has been unvaccinated.”


Biden has been trying to get vaccine-hesitant people off the sidelines for months but still faces nearly 40 million eligible who have chosen not to get the shot so far. He again stressed the need for jabs during the speech, saying that vaccination is "your patriotic duty" and mentioning that former President Donald Trump is not only vaccinated but boosted.

"It may be one of the only things he and I agree on," Biden said. "Join us. Join us."

Trump, by contrast, has begun urging his supporters to accept the vaccine to avoid playing into their political opponents' hands.

The speech comes as cases rise among vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, leading to long lines at testing sites and questions about why the White House didn't address testing at an earlier stage. Biden indicated that the omicron variant's transmissibility was not foreseen, a claim scientists have contradicted, but reiterated that vaccinated individuals should only catch a mild case.

“Vaccinated people may get ill, but they’re protected from severe illness and death,” Biden said. “We’ll see positive cases in every office, even here in the White House, among the vaccinated from omicron. But these cases are highly unlikely to lead to serious illness.”

Convincing unvaccinated people, who at this point have held out for nearly a year, will be easier said than done. In the latest show of vaccine pushback, 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin drove a crowd into a frenzy by telling them she'd never get a vaccine. South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace recently told Fox News that Biden needs to focus on testing rather than "attacking Americans."

Republicans have also been pushing back against Biden's attempts to mandate the vaccine in some settings. Every GOP senator and two Democrats voted against Biden's vaccine mandate for large private companies.

Biden's challenge is to change minds without driving entrenched resistance, according to former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman Glen Nowak.

“You have to be able to give people a way to say that they weren’t wrong but the situation has now changed, that the situation is more dire,” he said. “People don’t like to admit when they’re wrong.”

But despite the latest surge and the dire winter warnings, those living outside coastal areas may be tuning out the virus after 22 months.

While mask mandates have reappeared in coastal areas such as California, New York, and the District of Columbia, they're rare elsewhere. The American Automobile Association expects a 34% increase in the number of people traveling at least 50 miles from home over the holidays and says that travel overall stands at 92% of 2019 levels. Less than one-third of Americans have received a booster shot.

“I think that clearly, there is pandemic fatigue and people are tuning out,” said Nowak, now a health and risk communications professor at the University of Georgia. “Many younger adults, college students, haven’t had direct experience with serious COVID. Many of them have probably been infected, many are vaccinated, and in their minds, they’re saying, ‘I’m moving on.’”

Since more vaccinated people appear to be testing positive, a surge in demand for tests has caught the White House off guard. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki, after shrugging off the idea of mailing tests to all Americans, is now promoting a plan to make 500 million tests available by mail. Those tests, however, won't be available until January.


With test supply falling short of demand, the White House is instead pointing squarely at vaccination and boosters as the best ways to stay safe over the holidays.

Psaki pointed to a wall chart during a pre-speech briefing that showed virus-related deaths 14 times higher among unvaccinated people.

“What the president is conveying is: Get vaccinated,” she said. “You may have some light symptoms, you may have no symptoms. That is far preferable to being hospitalized or even worse.”