On Thursday, President Joe Biden made a stark prediction. “For the unvaccinated, we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death. For themselves, their family and the hospital they’ll soon overwhelm,” he said. The next day, Jeff Zients, who heads the COVID-19 response team, repeated this comment at a press briefing.
Brace yourself for “a winter of severe illness and death” is apparently the White House’s message to people who have chosen not to get vaccinated against COVID.
Most people hate it. They feel it’s callous and cruel.
“Not everyone is unvaccinated by choice, and immunocompromised and chronically ill people exist,” tweeted @alanasaltz. “Thanks for the victim-blaming, as always. Maybe actually do something to help us instead?”
Critics of the statement also don’t believe it will convince people to get vaccinated.
“If you wanted to make half the country hate the administration and resist its edicts and advice, it would be hard to come up with a better strategy than this,” tweeted @johnddavidson.
To date, nearly three out of four Americans have reportedly received at least one dose of the vaccine. Roughly 60% are fully vaccinated. Republicans are less likely to be vaccinated than Democrats.
Experts have said that upwards of 80% or more must be vaccinated to achieve what’s known as herd immunity—though the omicron variant has caused an uptick in breakthrough cases among the vaccinated. Research has also shown that vaccinated people are unlikely to experience severe illness or die from the virus if they contract it.
Republicans had particular ire for the administration’s messaging.
“Going into the year of the midterm elections, the Biden White House has settled on its slogan. ‘A winter of severe illness and death,’” mocked Tim Murtaugh, former President Donald Trump’s communications director. “Sounds like a winner.”
Numerous conservatives opined that the messaging invokes former President Jimmy Carter’s 1979 speech about the energy crisis. In what would be dubbed the “malaise speech,” Carter infamously implored Americans to view the energy crisis through a lens of morality, rather than as simply an issue of supply and demand.
Others argued that Biden is just being honest and that there’s no need to sugarcoat it.
Biden’s Chief of Staff Ronald Klain pushed back against critics who felt “a winter of severe illness and death” was overly harsh. “The truth is the truth,” Klain tweeted.
As with so much else in today’s political climate, the “winter of severe illness and death” line sparked significant debate.
Biden concluded his dire warning to the unvaccinated on a more positive note.
“There’s good news; if you’re vaccinated and you have your booster shot, you’re protected from severe illness and death,” he said.