In a rare moment of anger, President Joe Biden castigated social media users and cable news outlets that spread false and misleading information about coronavirus vaccinations, saying at a press conference Tuesday that the behavior is not only “immoral” but deadly.
“The unvaccinated are responsible for their own choices, but those choices have been fueled by dangerous misinformation on cable TV and social media,” he said while addressing the need for unvaccinated Americans to protect themselves against the fast-spreading new omicron variant.
“You know, these companies and personalities are making money by peddling lies and allowing misinformation that can kill their own customers and their own supporters. It’s wrong, it’s immoral,” he said, his voice rising. “I call on the purveyors of these lies and misinformation to stop it. Stop it now.”
Biden did not identify any of his targets by name.
Fox News’ conservative commentators have routinely played down COVID-19 risks to viewers and have raised alarms about the vaccines, which have proved to reduce serious illnesses and deaths. This angle comes even as Fox News employees at the network’s New York headquarters are required themselves to be vaccinated against the virus. All employees, regardless of location, are also required to disclose their vaccination status to the company.
A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation released last month found that people who trust Fox News and other conservative-leaning media outlets are more likely to believe falsehoods about COVID-19 and vaccines than those who get their news elsewhere.
Biden appeared to directly call out to the conservative fan base of former President Donald Trump in his vaccination plea on Tuesday, noting that he and Trump have both gotten their COVID booster shots.
“It may be one of the few things he and I agree on,” he added.
Though much remains to be learned about the omicron variant, which was first detected just last month in South Africa, scientists believe it to be significantly more contagious than the delta variant. Omicron cases in the U.S. accounted for nearly three-quarters of new U.S. infections last week, making it the dominant strain now.
“We should all be concerned about omicron but not panicked,” Biden said Tuesday, while urging the remaining tens of millions of Americans who have yet to get a booster to get this third shot so that they are fully protected.
“It’s the only responsible thing to do,” he said. “Omicron is serious and potentially deadly business for unvaccinated people.”