President Biden’s Pandemic Response Speech: Commentary from a Virologist

By Dr. Cindy M. Duke, MD, PhD, FACOG

President Biden’s speech on September 9, 2021 about vaccine mandates was a necessary step to more aggressively fight this pandemic which has been continuously raging through our country, even though we have three safe, reliable and effective vaccines available to all citizens.

I, as both a virologist and a concerned American, gave the speech high marks and thought it was refreshing to hear our country’s leader deliver details of the pandemic devoid of hyperbole and bloviating. In my assessment, he had just the right amount of statistics and science to support the discussion without muddling it with politics. I appreciated that the speech addressed all of our social determinants of health which have been impacted by COVID 19.

I want to highlight the key points in the speech and my thoughts on what I felt worked really well, and where I think President Biden’s plan fell short.

First and foremost, extending the vaccine mandate to all hospital health care workers, federal employees and anyone seeking contracts with the federal government, was a critically important first step in the right direction. This was necessary, overdue and applaudable! It will make a big difference even though I expect it to get challenged in court. I’d also like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that vaccine mandates are nothing new — they’ve been around and upheld by the supreme court of the USA for over a century already.

For those that can’t afford to take time off work but want to get the vaccine, paid PTO is helpful. Also, the activation of the Defense Production Act to increase home and general testing accessibility, as well as making it available to food banks and community centers showed that he understands and prioritizes the homeless population, who have quite frankly been underrepresented and unseen over the course of this pandemic.

The increase in fines for the unmasked was a plus, as well as safety nets for educators including paycheck and legal protections. So many teachers around this country currently already work for so little that the thought of having their checks threatened by the invented controversies surrounding masking and vaccinations because they advocate for evidence-based masking has been a tremendous source of fear and intimidation to them.

It was enormously helpful that he laid out the actual risk of COVID to children and teens. Too many people erroneously think that children don’t succumb to the virus. Outlining that everyone around children, who is eligible for vaccine, needs to be vaccinated was a giant leap in the right direction.

As a small business owner, I loved his extension and expansion of economic support for those hit hard by the pandemic. Also, incentivizing large organizations (more than 100 employees) was great. There will be a move in the right direction when people’s livelihoods are impacted and business owners’ bottom lines are affected.

Also, making more vaccines available to countries south of the economic border is beneficial. However, on the flip side, I do have a concern about this line item in his plan. I love that 500 million Pfizer vaccines will be shipped internationally in the biggest show of vaccine diplomacy to date but I was disappointed that he did not use the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine production for access to other countries. Remember that realistically, until the rest of the world is vaccinated, we will not have true virus containment and will continue chasing the variants of interest. For the countries south of the economic border, this is overdue.

Lastly, making testing available at cost is a crucial step forward but for those living at or below the poverty line and for those who are the working poor, these tests need to be at no cost to the consumer. We have a ways to go on this front.

Overall, I’m very pleased by what I saw during his speech and appreciated that President Biden took the risks necessary to get us all through this once in a century pandemic. More than 100 years ago, doctors and scientists were advocating for the use of masks during the Spanish Flu pandemic. George Washington, before he was our first president and was commander in chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, mandated vaccines among the soldiers to prevent the spread of diseases (smallpox) that were causing soldiers to die of infections.

We are a nation that has seen the devastation of disease and its vanquishing by vaccines time and time again, despite what always ends up being unfounded resistance, hysteria and fear. In those times, as more and more people got vaccinated and then survived and thrived, people learned to trust the vaccines which would go on to become a part of our culture’s safety routine. I can only hope that happens with the COVID vaccine — otherwise, we’ll never get back to our normal routines before the pandemic.




Dr. Cindy Duke is a Hopkins & Yale trained Physician, Virologist, Blogger, Influencer & Clinical Assistant Professor.,

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Dr. Cindy M. Duke

Dr. Cindy M. Duke

Dr. Cindy Duke is a Hopkins & Yale trained Physician, Virologist, Blogger, Influencer & Clinical Assistant Professor.,

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