Fact Check: Were There No COVID Vaccines When Joe Biden Became President?

Joe Biden appeared at his first CNN town hall since becoming president on Tuesday, when he addressed topics including COVID vaccination.

The president said he hoped 600 million COVID vaccines would be available to Americans by the end of July—enough to cover almost the entire population with two doses. He also said his administration did not have COVID vaccines when it took over from Trump's, drawing criticism from former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

The Claim

Biden said in the town hall that "we didn't have" a COVID vaccine when his administration came into office.

Speaking to host Anderson Cooper, Biden said: "The biggest thing is, when you and I talked last, we talked about...it's one thing to have the vaccine—which we didn't have when we came into office—but a vaccinator. How do you get the vaccine into someone's arm?"

The comments came amid a discussion about when a vaccine will be widely available to the general public.

Biden's claim that "we didn't have" a COVID vaccine when his administration took over from Donald Trump was picked up McEnany.

She posted a clip of the quote and wrote: "Biden says there was no vaccine when he came into office. That is abjectly false."

At the time of writing, the post has been retweeted by over 12,000 people and liked more than 38,000 times. McEnany said: "How does Joe get away with this?"

The Facts

On the surface, the implication that Biden had taken over from an administration that did not have a COVID vaccine at its disposal was indeed false.

On January 15, the week before Biden was sworn in, 10.6 million Americans had received a COVID vaccine under Trump's administration, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) figures at the time.

Joe Biden press briefing
Joe Biden speaking at a press briefing. The current U.S. president has vowed to have made more than 600 million COVID vaccine doses available by the end of July this year. Stefani Reynolds/Pool/Getty Images

The number has since risen to over 71 million doses delivered across the U.S., 55 million of which have been administered. There are two COVID vaccines available in the U.S.: the Pfizer-BioNTech jab and the Moderna one.

However, McEnany's suggestion that Biden had attempted to "get away" with the comment must be approached with context.

Around two minutes prior to the comment, Biden acknowledged that Trump's administration did, in fact, have millions of vaccine doses available.

He was asked by Cooper: "When is every American who wants it going to be able to get a vaccine?"

Biden responded: "By the end of July this year. When we came into office, there was only 50 million doses that were available.

"We have now...by the end of July, we will have over 600 million doses—enough to vaccinate every single American."

It is therefore unlikely that Biden was attempting to claim that Trump's administration did not have a coronavirus vaccine available by the time he took over. He said exactly the opposite two minutes prior.

Donald Trump waving
Donald Trump waving. The former U.S. President did oversee the delivery of millions of COVID vaccines before he left office. Al Drago/Getty Images

It is, however, unclear what he did mean when he said, "we didn't have" a vaccine following his inauguration.

Newsweek contacted the White House for comment.

Biden might have been referring to vaccine reserves, as opposed to the total amounts of vaccines that had been delivered or had been administered.

He told Cooper about a minute prior: "We got into office and found out the supply…there was nothing in the refrigerator, figuratively and literally speaking. And there were 10 million doses a day that were available."

The Ruling

False.

Yes, Biden did say the words: "it's one thing to have the vaccine—which we didn't have when we came into office."

It is not true to suggest that Trump's administration did not oversee the rollout of a vaccine by that time, or what there were none available.

However, it is unlikely that Biden was attempting to claim that was the case during the town hall, as McEnany suggested. He acknowledged the opposite.

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