President Joe Biden on Thursday hit out at anti-masking protesters for politicizing the Covid-19 pandemic, saying he was particularly disturbed by scenes at a school board meeting in Tennessee earlier this week.
During remarks on his plan to lower prescription drug costs, Biden said there are people in America who are “trying to turn a public safety measure, that is children wearing masks in school so they can be safe, into a political dispute.”
“This isn’t about politics. This is about keeping our children safe,” Biden said at the start of remarks at the White House Thursday afternoon.
The President specifically pointed to a recent protest in Williamson County, Tennessee, where anti-mask activists harassed public health officials at a school board meeting testifying in favor of mask mandates in schools to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
With the highly contagious Delta variant, Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations among children have been on the rise. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends students from kindergarten through grade 12 wear masks in school, along with teachers and visitors, while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends masks in schools for everyone over age two.
“You know, our health care workers are heroes. They were the heroes when there was no vaccine. Many of them gave their lives trying to save others. And they’re heroes again with a vaccine,” Biden said. “They’re doing their best to care for the people refusing to get vaccinated, and unvaccinated folks are being hospitalized and dying as a result of not being vaccinated.”
The President went on to applaud “the mayors, school superintendents, educators, local leaders, who are standing up to the governors politicizing masks, protection for our kids,” adding, “thank God that we have heroes like you, and I stand with you all, and America should as well.”
Previously, Biden and members of his administration have specifically targeted the governors of Florida and Texas for standing in the way of mask and vaccine requirements, pointing to the extraordinary amount of Covid cases and hospitalizations in their states. Earlier Thursday, the White House Covid-19 team confirmed they’d increased their shipments of monoclonal antibody treatments to Florida eightfold over the past month. They’ve also sent additional ventilators to the state.
”Prescription drug prices are outrageously expensive in America’
As part of his scheduled remarks, Biden made the case for his plan to lower prescription drug prices, expanding upon his recent executive orders and efforts in his “Build Back Better” agenda proposals to Congress.
The President said he didn’t want to diminish the “groundbreaking” work by pharmaceutical companies, like the development of the Covid-19 vaccine, but added that “we can make a distinction between developing these breakthroughs and jacking up prices on a range of medications for a range of everyday diseases and conditions.”
He pointed to the fact that the US pays “the highest prescription drug costs of any developed nation in the world,” cited skyrocketing prices for insulin, as well as medications to treat multiple sclerosis, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
He also recalled chipping in with his siblings to cover the cost his mother’s medications, adding that similar situations across the country have “forced people into terrible choices, between maintaining their health, paying their rent or the mortgage, putting food on the table – I mean literally.”
The order continues a historic Trump administration push to allow states to import prescription drugs from Canada, where government regulation keeps down the cost of medications. It directs the US Food and Drug Administration to work with states to safely import drugs, which Biden had supported during his presidential campaign.
The executive order directs the Department of Health and Human Services to issue a plan within 45 days to combat high prescription drug prices and price gouging. It also cracks down on shipping costs for companies and prescription drug costs for Americans.
He pointed to the fact that new prescription drugs can get a patent and be distributed in the US for 12 years without competition, but added that “unfortunately it often takes a long time, years and years, for” generic versions of those drugs to be released into the US market after the 12-year period.
“These things by themselves will be a great help but to really solve the problem we need Congress to act. That’s what my Build Back Better plan will do,” the President said.
Part of his proposals to Congress would “give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices” and allow Medicare prices to be available to private insurance companies.
He also pointed to proposals to expand Medicare coverage to dental, vision and hearing, as well as the assembly of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H).
“I’m not criticizing companies that aren’t prepared to spend billions of dollars on certain projects to research. I get it. But if they’re not, we should, to make sure that Americans are covered,” the President said.
CNN’s Rebekah Riess, Kate Sullivan, Brian Fung, Betsy Klein and Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.