President Biden said Monday he does not think Facebook is killing people — something he seemed to suggest days earlier — though he wants social media companies to “look in the mirror” and combat bogus information that flows through their platform.
The White House also dismissed the idea that former President Donald Trump should be enlisted to promote the shots that were developed under his tenure, saying anyone with a broad platform is welcome to promote the COVID-19 vaccines as safe and effective.
“We don’t believe that requires an embroidered invitation to be a part of,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
The administration’s frustration over the effects of social media and of Mr. Trump’s constant specter reflects its inability to meet its vaccination goals and make progress as the campaign stalls with just shy of half of the population fully vaccinated.
The U.S. rushed out ahead of other countries but the campaign now is creeping at a snail’s pace, with slightly fewer than half the population immunized despite free and plentiful shots. The country is administering around 400,000 shots per day, down from a peak of 3.4 million in mid-April.
Vaccination rates in Trump-supporting counties are falling behind Biden-supporting ones, raising fears about deadly outbreaks in red states and about the best way to sway them as the delta variant rips through communities. The trend is upsetting Wall Street and posing another daunting chapter in the seemingly endless coronavirus fight.
Scientists say broader vaccination is the best way to keep people out of the hospital and wrangle the virus so it doesn’t threaten unprotected children or evolve into something even more dangerous.
The administration has relied on vaccine incentives, like tax credits for employers who offer paid time off for vaccination or free beer for people who get shots.
But in recent days, it’s blamed misinformation from social media, television and some lawmakers.
The president seemed to accuse Facebook of murder on Friday when a reporter asked for his message to social media companies.
“I mean they, really, look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that’s — they’re killing people,” the president said at the time.
Facebook wasn’t amused.
In a blog post, the company’s vice president of integrity, Guy Rosen, pointed to data that find vaccine acceptance among Facebook users is increasing and reached 85%, so Mr. Biden shouldn’t blame them for missing his goal of 70% of U.S. adults vaccinated by July 4.
“The fact is that vaccine acceptance among Facebook users in the U.S. has increased,” Mr. Rosen wrote. “These and other facts tell a very different story to the one promoted by the administration in recent days.”
Mr. Biden on Monday clarified that Facebook isn’t a killer but the bogus information that trickles out on its site can be. He said he read an article that found 60% of vaccine misinformation on Facebook came from a dozen people.
“Facebook isn’t killing people, these 12 people are out there are giving misinformation. Anyone listening to it is getting hurt by it,” Mr. Biden told White House reporters. “It’s killing people, it’s bad information.”
He said the company needs to crack down but did not threaten regulatory actions or other sticks to get it to change its methods.
Roughly 56% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, meaning the country will likely at least half of the population fully vaccinated soon.
But it’s been slow going as scientists urge at least 70% vaccination and cases rise to 30,000 per day, the worst level since mid-May.
The COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record time under President Trump, though the Biden administration avoids mentioning his role and credits drugmakers and scientists instead — while taking credit for its own distribution effort.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, wants credit for the vaccines and their overall impact but hasn’t made an aggressive pitch for people to roll up their sleeves under Mr. Biden.
The former president received his shots behind closed doors in January and suggested over the weekend that people are hesitant under Mr. Biden “because they don’t trust his administration.”
Ms. Psaki dismissed the idea that enlisting Mr. Trump’s direct help would improve things, saying he’s free to start promoting the shots as a public-health tool.
“Certainly any role of anyone who has a platform where they can provide information to the public that the vaccine is safe, that it is effective — don’t see this as a political issue — we certainly welcome that engagement,” she said.