Fact Check: Joe Biden Claims He ‘Saved Millions of Lives’ from Ebola

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden arrives on stage for the
Scott Olson/Getty Images

CLAIM: Joe Biden claims he ‘saved millions of lives’ from Ebola.

VERDICT: FALSE. Biden’s claim to have “saved millions of lives” in America from Ebola is highly speculative. According to CDC statistics, the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic in Africa included about 28,600 infections and caused 11,325 documented fatalities.

During the Democrat debate in South Carolina on Tuesday night, the candidates tried to score points against President Donald Trump by criticizing his administration’s response to the coronavirus epidemic.

Former Vice President Joe Biden claimed he played a role in saving “millions of lives” in the United States during the Ebola epidemic that occurred during the Obama administration.

Biden made this odd comment, and a string of untrue statements about the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH), in response to a question about the CDC press conference on Tuesday that warned the coronavirus is likely to spread across America’s borders, causing problems such as school closings and a shortage of protective masks.

Biden’s response, in full:

What we did with Ebola – I was part of making sure that pandemic did not get to the United States, saved millions of lives. And what we did, we set up, I helped set up that office in the presidency, in the president’s office, on diseases that are pandemic diseases.

We increased the budget of the CDC. We increased the NIH budget. We should – and our president today – and he’s wiped all that out. We did it. We stopped it.

And the second thing I’d point out to you is that what I would do immediately is restore the funding. He cut the funding for CDC. He tried to cut the funding for NIH. He cut the funding for the entire effort.

And here’s the deal. I would be on the phone with China and making it clear, we are going to need to be in your country; you have to be open; you have to be clear; we have to know what’s going on; we have to be there with you, and insist on it and insist, insist, insist.

Even if Ebola had been unleashed in the United States, there is no realistic scenario in which it would have killed “millions” of people. Anyone who said millions of American lives were at risk from Ebola during the Obama administration would have been denounced as a fear-mongering extremist.

The Obama administration’s handling of Ebola was not exactly a point of pride at the time. Even CNN ran contemporaneous articles listing mistakes made by CDC in response to the epidemic. Critics said CDC’s models of how many people were at risk of contracting Ebola were off by orders of magnitude.

Biden repeatedly referred to Ebola as a “pandemic,” but that term implies a global spread of infections that did not occur with Ebola. The coronavirus more clearly fits the definition of a pandemic, but there is still heated debate about whether the term should be applied. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) did not classify the 2014 Ebola outbreak as a pandemic, although it did declare an international public health emergency, primarily because it wanted to rush international medical assistance to the outbreak region in Africa to save lives and prevent the disease from spreading further in Africa. WHO controversially waited until the end of January to make an international public health emergency declaration for the coronavirus, even though it spread far more quickly to populations around the world than Ebola did, and has inflicted vastly more financial damage to world markets than the 2014 Ebola epidemic in Africa.

Biden claimed President Donald Trump “wiped out” funding for the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health, which is obviously untrue. The Trump administration did propose funding reductions, but they were not passed by Congress or put into effect – which is true of most presidential budget proposals – and they would not have “wiped out” either agency if they had been. 

The administration is currently requesting a $2.5 billion emergency funding increase to deal with the coronavirus, and even the proposed 2021 budget for CDC included a $50 million increase for its Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund. 

According to the White House budget document, which of course is never quoted directly or debated by critics, the goal of the reduced CDC budget was to “re-focus CDC on its core mission of preventing and controlling infectious diseases and other emerging public health issues, such as opioids” by reducing funding for “non-infectious disease activities” and providing “greater flexibility for States to undertake these activities” through block grants. The Left has long been pushing CDC to divert more of its funding and attention to political issues that have nothing to do with infectious diseases, such as “gun violence.”

As for what Biden would “insist, insist, insist” that Chinese dictator Xi Jinping and his Communist Party do differently to combat the coronavirus, he did not specify how he would force them to be more “open” and “clear,” or how he would compel them to allow American medical personnel into the Wuhan outbreak area, an idea the Chinese government has been highly resistant to

The Chinese are energetically attacking travel bans, the only measure that has proven effective at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Biden apparently agrees with them, having attacked travel restrictions as “reactionary” in late January.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.