Trump Dismisses COVID-19 Vax Safety Claims, Says He Saved 100 Million Lives
Former President Donald Trump has dismissed claims that COVID-19 vaccines are broadly unsafe while asserting that his own role in the development of the vaccines may have saved 100 million lives.
Trump touted the effectiveness of Operation Warp Speed, his administration's program to accelerate the development of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics, during a Monday interview on the conservative podcast The Water Cooler.
Host David Brody asked the former president if he would "acknowledge" that the vaccines "were not as safe or effective as we were told by the medical community at the time," after repeating a number of unsubstantiated anti-vaccine claims.
"I was able to get something approved that, you know, that has proven to have saved a lot of lives," Trump said, ignoring Brody's request to weigh in on the anti-vaccine narrative. "Some people say that I saved 100 million lives worldwide."
Trump touted the speed of vaccine development under his program, saying that he was "able to get [the vaccines] done in nine months," as opposed to what he claimed would have been "five years to 12 years."
The former president said that it was "very important" to note that he did not order lockdowns or a federal vaccine mandate and had "never forced anyone" to get the shots. He also praised Republican governors for refusing mandates and lockdowns at the state level.
However, he singled out his potential 2024 GOP primary opponent Ron DeSantis for pandemic policy criticism, pointing out that the Florida governor had shut down his state "for a period of time."
Brody then pushed Trump to declare whether he had "concerns about the safety concerns of these vaccines."
Trump said that he "always" had concerns but argued that some "reports" were saying the vaccines were "the greatest thing that's ever happened," while those that claimed safety issues involved "relatively small numbers."
"You have to understand, there are the pros and cons," said Trump. "Some reports [say] that it's the greatest thing that's ever happened and we saved tens of millions of lives. Then you'll read other reports [that] say there were some problems with the vaccine...but relatively small numbers.
"But you know, you have many reports that say the vaccines save tens of millions of lives," he continued. "That without the vaccines you would have had a thing...where perhaps 100 million people died."
Brody began the discussion on vaccines by claiming that a had been "sudden death spikes." A popular but debunked anti-vaccine conspiracy video called "Died Suddenly" makes similar claims.
The host also pointed out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week said an early warning system had flagged an unconfirmed "safety signal" concerning a link between the Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot and strokes in the elderly.
Brody did not mention that the agency later determined that there was no link following an extensive review of data.
Monday was far from the first time that Trump has spoken positively about COVID vaccines, despite his position inspiring anger from some of his supporters.
The former president has at times seemingly attempted to avoid mentioning vaccines, possibly due to the shots remaining unpopular among Republicans.
"After China unleashed this deadly virus onto the rest of the world, President Trump and his administration worked tirelessly to secure medical equipment to save the lives of Americans who were infected," Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement given to Newsweek. "Operation Warp Speed was a once-in-a-lifetime initiative that gave people the option of utilizing therapeutics if they wished to do so.
"He also fought against any attempt to federalize the pandemic response by protecting every state's right to ultimately decide what is best for their people because of the unique challenges each state faced. In coordination with governors across the country, President Trump provided assistance and equipment as requested or if needed.
"By contrast, Joe Biden incomprehensibly failed to continue the Trump Administration's successes he inherited, with more COVID deaths under Biden than President Trump in the same amount of time."
Update 01/16/23, 10:04 p.m. ET: This article has been updated to include a statement from Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung.