Trump again publicly defends COVID-19 vaccines, but slams mandates

"If you take the vaccine, you're protected," he told a conservative podcast.

December 23, 2021, 1:59 PM

Former President Donald Trump has again publicly defended the COVID-19 vaccines and their efficacy, but decried mask and vaccine mandates, in an interview posted online on Tuesday.

His remarks run counter to vaccine opposition among many of his supporters and come just days after he was booed for telling a conservative audience he had gotten a booster shot.

The vaccine "was one of the greatest achievements; we did it in less than nine months," Trump told conservative political commentator Candace Owens in an episode of her web series, which is hosted by the Daily Wire conservative news website.

"Some people aren't taking it; the ones that get very sick and go to the hospital are the ones that don't take the vaccine, but it's still their choice. And if you take the vaccine, you're protected," Trump said.

Former President Donald Trump looks on during his first post-presidency campaign rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds in Wellington, Ohio, June 26, 2021.
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters, FILE

He interjected those remarks after Owens claimed more people have died from COVID under President Joe Biden than under Trump and "more people took the vaccine this year."

The COVID-19 vaccine was not widely available until early spring 2021, after Biden had already assumed the presidency, and many COVID-19 deaths were among unvaccinated individuals. Other factors such as the end of masking and social distancing mandates in many local jurisdictions, as well as new variants of the virus, have contributed to COVID-19 deaths in 2021.

"Look; the results of the vaccine are very good. And if you do get [COVID-19 after vaccination], it's a very minor form. People aren't dying when they take the vaccine," Trump said.

Both Trump and Owens expressed their continued opposition to vaccine and mask mandates, and Trump also claimed that prior infection from COVID-19 protects in a similar way to the vaccine. That claim is disputed by medical experts who say that the protection from the vaccine and a booster shot is stronger than protection from prior infection.

"Forget about the mandates, people have to have their freedom, but at the same time, the vaccine is one of the greatest achievements of mankind … I came up with a vaccine -- with three vaccines," Trump said. "All are very, very good; came up with three of them in less than nine months. It was supposed to take five to 12 years."

A man swabbed during a COVID-19 test on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Dec. 21, 2021, in New York.
Brittainy Newman/AP

During an appearance last weekend with former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, Trump -- who in the past has appeared hesitant to fully push the vaccines developed under his administration -- argued that his supporters should embrace them and "take credit" because "we did something that was historic; we saved tens of millions of lives worldwide."

Trump was asked by O'Reilly if he had received a booster and responded, "Yes," triggering some boos. "Don't, don't, don't," Trump replied to the crowd before pointing and saying, "That's all right. It's a very tiny group over there."

President Biden highlighted Trump's comments in his address to the nation on Tuesday about the omicron variant of the coronavirus, in a rare instance of Biden calling the former president by name.

President Joe Biden speaks about the country's fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the White House in Washington, Dec. 21, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

"Just the other day former President Trump announced he had gotten his booster shot. Maybe one of the few things he and I agree on," Biden said.

Biden also said that "thanks to the prior administration and our scientific community, America is one of the first countries to get the vaccine," referencing Operation Warp Speed, a governmental effort that was meant to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine development.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted a clip on Thursday from Trump's interview with Owens, "Just going to echo former President Trump here on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. Merry Christmas eve eve. go get boosted".

But at a press briefing on Thursday, she told ABC News' Alex Presha that "the most effective voices are local voices" and made it clear that a partnership between Biden and Trump to promote vaccination is not in the works.

"I don't know that we think it requires a partnership," Psaki said.

ABC News' Will Steakin, Ben Siegel, Ben Gittleson, and Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

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