EXCLUSIVE: Former President Trump said Tuesday that he is "very appreciative" and "surprised" that President Biden thanked him and his administration for their success in making COVID-19 vaccines available to the public, telling Fox News that "tone" and "trust" are critical in getting Americans vaccinated.
Biden on Tuesday afternoon announced increased testing capacity and expanded access to vaccines and support for hospitals across the country amid a surge in cases of the omicron variant, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week makes up more than 73% of new infections in the country.
"Thanks to the prior administration and our scientific community, America is one of the first countries to get the vaccine," Biden said Tuesday. "Thanks to my administration, the hard work of Americans, we let, our roll-out, made America among the world leaders in getting shots in arms."
In an exclusive interview with Fox News Tuesday evening, Trump reacted to Biden acknowledging his administration’s efforts.
"I'm very appreciative of that — I was surprised to hear it," Trump told Fox News. "I think it was a terrific thing, and I think it makes a lot of people happy."
Trump then repeated that he was "a little bit surprised."
"I think he did something very good," Trump said. "You know, it has to be a process of healing in this country, and that will help a lot."
The Trump administration created Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership to create vaccines against the novel coronavirus, as the pandemic raged in 2020. Under his administration, the Food and Drug Administration approved emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.
Trump in December 2020 signed an executive order that would ensure all Americans had access to coronavirus vaccines before the U.S. government could begin aiding nations around the world.
"This is a great thing that we all did," Trump said, referring to the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines. "I may have been the vehicle, but we all did this together."
"When we came up with these incredible vaccines — three of them — and therapeutics, we did a tremendous job, and we should never disparage them," Trump said. "We should be really happy about it because we’ve all saved millions and millions of lives all over the world."
Trump, who is fully vaccinated, told Fox News that he received a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The former president was hospitalized with COVID-19 in October 2020.
For those still hesitant to receive a COVID vaccine, Trump said: "You have to embrace it. You don’t have to do it, and there can’t be mandates and all those things, but you have to embrace it."
Trump said getting Americans vaccinated is "really a matter of tone" instead of mandates.
"It’s a matter of getting people out to, ideally, get the vaccine," Trump said. "If you have the mandate, the mandate will destroy people’s lives — it destroys people’s lives, just as the vaccine saves people."
He added: "I think that it’s really a question of tone. It’s a question of trust, and hopefully, the people that have had COVID, hopefully they will be given credit for that."
Trump predicted that those who have already been infected with COVID-19 are "in pretty good shape of not getting it again, or getting it in a much lighter way."
"They probably won’t catch it, but if they do get it, it’s not going to be nearly as severe, and there probably won’t be hospitals involved," Trump said.
In March 2020, amid the first surge of COVID-19 cases in the United States, Trump moved to limit travel from China and later from Europe to the United States — a move he was criticized for.
Biden last month moved to limit travel from some African countries after the omicron variant was believed to have been first detected in South Africa but did not face as much criticism.
When asked for a reaction, Trump told Fox News: "It is a little tough to be overly critical now, because he just thanked us for the vaccine and thanked me for what I did. You know, that’s a first — so it is very tough for me to be overly critical now."
"But, you know, we did shut it down, and we were criticized by some — we weren’t criticized by all," Trump said. "And ultimately, they said we did the right thing. I think we saved hundreds of thousands of lives in our country by closing it down to China and then ultimately closing it down to Europe very early."
"I think … people understand that now," he said.