Fact check: Clip takes Jill Biden's remarks about pandemic planning taken out of context
The claim: First lady Jill Biden said U.S. "already had a pandemic ready to go"
On June 22, first lady Jill Biden embarked on a trip to Mississippi and Tennessee to promote COVID-19 vaccinations.
Those two are among the states with the lowest vaccination rates. As of June 29, 41.6% of Tennesseans and 35.9% of Mississippians had received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared with a nationwide average of 54.1%.
In the days since, some social media users have shared a clip from a Biden speech at Jackson State University to promote the conspiracy theory that the pandemic was planned. But that is not what Biden said.
The video begins abruptly with Biden in midsentence talking about working on the vaccine for decades. Then it cuts to this quote: “So when this pandemic started, they already had a pandemic ready to go.”
The June 28 Instagram post shared a screen recording of the clip with the caption “So this was planned? It was in the making? This is why you don’t trust the government and nothing they giving out.”
The Instagram post ads the conspiracy claim to a June 26 tweet. The Instagram post has more than 3,500 views and the tweet has more than 252,600.
USA TODAY reached out to the Instagram user for comment.
Biden spoke about prior vaccine research
At Jackson State, Biden spoke about vaccine hesitancy and misinformation.
A video of Biden’s full 12-minute speech shows she said experts had been preparing for a pandemic for years. Biden did say “they already had a pandemic ready to go,” however, the larger context of the speech indicates she was using the word “pandemic” to reference experts’ pandemic preparedness and response.
She addressed how misinformation about vaccines disregards decades of research that prepared experts to roll out vaccines quickly:
“And I was surprised to learn that while these vaccines might be new, the technology behind them really isn’t new at all. You know, scientists have been studying similar viruses and working on this type of vaccine for decades. And many of you probably already know this. So when this pandemic started, they already had a pandemic ready to go. And the vaccines might feel like a miracle, but there’s no faith required. They are a result of decades of rigorous scientific research and discoveries, and they have been held to the very same safety standard as every single vaccine that we’ve had here in America.”
Biden did not say anything about the pandemic being planned in her speech.
Decades of research provided head start on vaccine development
Biden was referencing medical research that predated the COVID-19 pandemic and allowed researchers to rapidly develop vaccines.
While the virus behind the current outbreak is a novel virus, the world has seen other coronaviruses. After an outbreak in China in 2002, researchers began exploring a potential vaccine in preparation for a possible future outbreak. This early work gave vaccine developers a running start when the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.
This does not mean vaccine testing wasn't thorough. The vaccines still had to hold up through extensive trials for approval.
USA TODAY has previously debunked claims that speculated about the COVID-19 vaccines’ fast development.
Our rating: Missing context
The claim that the first lady said “so when this pandemic started, they already had a pandemic ready to go” is MISSING CONTEXT because it is misleading when presented on its own. Biden made the statement while discussing how pre-pandemic research prepared experts to quickly develop COVID-19 vaccines. She did not say the government planned the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our fact-check sources:
- USA TODAY, June 22, 'Do your part': First lady Jill Biden promotes vaccines during Mississippi, Tennessee visit
- USA TODAY, Jan. 14, Tracking COVID-19 vaccine distribution by state: How many people have been vaccinated in the US?
- Jackson State University, YouTube, June 22, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden Speaks at Jackson State University
- USA TODAY, Jan 21, Fact check: The vaccine for COVID-19 has been nearly 20 years in the making
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed June 29, CDC SARS Response Timeline, SARS: Key Events
- National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2004, CORONAVIRUS RESEARCH: KEYS TO DIAGNOSIS, TREATMENT, AND PREVENTION OF SARS
- USA TODAY, May 28, Fact check: Peer-reviewed studies have shown safety, efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines
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Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook