Biden predicts FDA will give final vaccine approval by the fall

By Jim Tankersley

President Joe Biden said earlier this week that he expected the Food and Drug Administration would give final approval quickly for coronavirus vaccines, as he pressed for skeptical Americans to get vaccinated and stop another surge of the pandemic.

Speaking to a town hall audience in Ohio on Wednesday, Biden said he was not intervening in the decisions of government scientists, but pointed toward a potential decision soon from the FDA to give final approval for the vaccines, which are currently authorized for emergency use. Many medical professionals have pushed for the final approval, saying it could help increase uptake of the vaccines.

“My expectation talking to the group of scientists we put together, over 20 of them plus others in the field, is that sometime maybe in the beginning of the school year, at the end of August, beginning of September, October, they’ll get a final approval” for the vaccines at the FDA, Biden said.

The president also said he expected children younger than 12, who are not eligible to receive the vaccine, to be cleared to get it on an emergency basis “soon, I believe.”

In an hourlong discussion with a largely friendly crowd and moderator, CNN’s Don Lemon, at Mount St. Joseph University, Biden fielded questions about the economy, gun violence, the opioid crisis, immigration, the virtues of bipartisan compromise, the pandemic and online misinformation about vaccines. In typical Biden fashion, he frequently veered into personal stories and punctuated answers with “I’m serious,” and he sometimes did not give direct answers in the process.

Biden defended his opposition to eliminating the Senate filibuster — which requires 60 votes to move most major legislation — to pass a voting rights bill that he has called crucial for democracy, even when Lemon pushed him to explain why he would keep in place a weapon that senators have used over decades to block civil rights legislation.

“There’s no reason to protect it,” Biden said, “other than, you’re going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done.”

Biden expressed optimism that Republican and Democratic senators would reach a final agreement on a bipartisan infrastructure package next week, which he also promised would “absolutely” make it possible to replace the beleaguered Brent Spence Bridge between Kentucky and Ohio.

He acknowledged concerns about rising inflation across the economy but predicted price spikes would prove temporary, and he cited analysis from economists at Moody’s who said this week that Biden’s ongoing spending plans — including trillions for child care, education, anti-poverty efforts and more — would dampen inflation in the years to come.

“We’re going to be providing good opportunities and jobs for people who, in fact, are going to be reinvesting that money back in all the things we’re talking about,” Biden said. “Driving down prices, not raising prices.”

The president did not give a direct answer to the owner of a restaurant chain who said he was having trouble hiring workers as the economy recovered.

Biden said that it was good that workers had the ability to search for new and better jobs, and that companies had to compete to hire them. He said he saw “no evidence” that expanded unemployment benefits, which were included in the $1.9 trillion stimulus package he signed into law in March, were deterring workers — but even if they were, he said, the benefits are set to end soon.

“I think it really is a matter of people deciding now that they have opportunities to do other things and there’s a shortage of employees, people are looking to make more money and to bargain,” Biden told the restaurant owner. “So I think your business and the tourist business is really going to be in a bind for a little while.”

While Biden was flying to the Kentucky airport that serves Cincinnati, senators voted Wednesday on a motion to advance the bipartisan infrastructure framework, which is not yet finalized nearly a month after Biden and centrist lawmakers unveiled it at the White House. The vote failed, but Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and the Senate majority leader, reserved the right to schedule another vote next week in hopes of moving the agreement forward.

Administration officials have engaged in negotiations with Republicans and Democrats in recent days to finalize the deal, including how to fully pay for its spending. Lawmakers indicated Wednesday that they expect to reach final agreement in days.

Asked how long it will take to get the bipartisan deal done, Biden replied, “Till Monday.”

“I come from a tradition in the Senate, you shake your hand, that’s it. You keep your word,” Biden said. He predicted Republicans would do so. “I think it’s going to get done.”

But Biden was less solicitous of his Republican counterparts when it came to the issues of gun violence and policing. He told a questioner that the country needed more police officers, not fewer. Asked how he responds to Republicans who paint his party as anti-police, he replied, “They’re lying.”

Asked to clarify his administration’s stance on immigrants attempting to cross into the country at the border, Biden said he was pushing for asylum-seekers to do so in embassies in their own countries. “They should not come,” he said.

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