Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials
11:43 A.M. EDT
MR. ZIENTS: Thank you for joining us. Today, we will get a state-of-the-pandemic update from Dr. Walensky; Dr. Fauci will highlight the latest science; and Dr. Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General, will join us to discuss the campaign to increase confidence in vaccinations and our work to empower local voices and trusted community leaders.
First, I want to provide a brief update on how we’re accelerating our vaccinations program to meet the President’s goal of 200 million shots in his first 100 days. As you can see on our weekly vaccinations progress report, our seven-day average is 2.9 million vaccinations per day, up from last week’s 2.5 million per-day average. This is an unprecedented pace. No other country is vaccinating this many people this fast.
And as of today, 74 percent of individuals 65 and over have received at least one shot, and 52 percent of American seniors are now fully vaccinated. Overall, nearly 100 million Americans have received at least one dose, and more than 56 million adult Americans are now fully vaccinated.
And as the President announced earlier this week, states are responding to his call to make all adult Americans eligible to receive a vaccine no later than May 1. In fact, by April 19th, more than 90 percent of all adults across the country will be eligible for vaccination, and 90 percent of Americans will have a vaccine site within five miles of where they live.
On vaccine supply: This week, a total of more than 33 million doses went out to states, Tribes, and territories, and through the federal channels, including pharmacies and community health centers. This is a record level of weekly vaccine supply.
I do want to address the recent issues at the manufacturing plant in Baltimore that is working for Johnson & Johnson to produce their vaccine substance. I want to emphasize the issue at the Baltimore plant did not impact any J&J doses that had been distributed, as all J&J finished doses to date were produced in a different, FDA-approved facility.
Johnson & Johnson and the FDA are working through the identified issues in the FDA approval process for the new facility. The company and FDA will provide updates as the process concludes.
At the same time, Johnson & Johnson has also reiterated its commitment to deliver at or near 100 million doses by the end of May. And importantly, we are on track to have enough vaccine supply for all adult Americans by the end of May.
Let me close by reiterating what the President said at the start of the week: We are in a life-and-death race against the virus, and the war against this virus is far from won. Even as we’re vaccinating record numbers of people, we have many more people to get vaccinated and we are seeing cases rise. Our whole-of-government response is accelerating to get Americans vaccinated as quickly, efficiently, and equitably as possible.
We are working to put this pandemic behind us as fast as we can, but we’re not there yet. So we need everyone to do their part. That’s why the President called on every governor, mayor, and local leader to maintain or reinstate mask mandates.
To be clear: As our vaccination efforts move forward, we need everyone to follow the science and listen to the experts. Wear a mask, socially distance, and get vaccinated when it’s your turn.
And, with that, let me turn it over to Dr. Walensky.
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you, Jeff, and good morning everyone. I want to start today by reiterating with an update of our vaccination efforts. We are now vaccinating close to 3 million people a day. Nearly 40 percent of all adults in the United States have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and more than one in five adults is now fully vaccinated.
It is truly inspiring for me to see many Americans embracing vaccination. We know that the massive scale-up of vaccination is the key to protecting the American people and to inching us closer to our regular lives. As more people get vaccinated, we at CDC have the responsibility to provide you with science-based recommendations on the activities that can safely resume.
In early March, CDC issued its initial guidance on what activities are safer for fully vaccinated people. And remember, “fully vaccinated” is defined as two weeks after receiving the single-dose vaccine or after — two weeks after receiving the second dose of the two-dose vaccines.
When we released the guidance in early March, I emphasized that the science and evidence were rapidly evolving and that we would update our guidance as new evidence emerged. We now have several newly released studies documenting the real-world effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. So, today, we are releasing an update to our guidance for fully vaccinated people.
Specifically, the new guidance today speaks to travel. We state that fully vaccinated people can resume travel to low — at low risk to themselves. For domestic travel, fully vaccinated people do not need to get a COVID-19 test before or after travel and do not need to self-quarantine after travel.
For example, fully vaccinated grandparents can fly to visit their healthy grandkids without getting a COVID-19 test or self-quarantining, provided they follow the other recommended prevention measures while traveling.
For international travel, fully vaccinated people do not need to get a COVID-19 test before they leave the United States unless it is required by their international destination.
However, fully vaccinated people should get tested and have a negative test result before they board an international flight back into the United States, but they do not need to quarantine when they arrive here.
However, fully vaccinated people who do international travel should still be tested three to five days after arrival in the United States on an international flight.
Our guidance reiterates that all travelers, regardless of vaccination status, should continue to wear masks on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation while traveling.
As I mentioned previously, the vian- — the science on COVID-19 is constantly evolving. We will continue to monitor the evidence and provide updates as we learn more. With so many people still unvaccinated, it is important that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, continue to take prevention measures in public and adhere to our guidance on ways to reduce the spread of COVID 19: Wear a mask, physically distance, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated areas, and wash your hands frequently.
And while we believe that fully vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves, CDC is not recommending travel at this time due to the rising number of cases.
Before I close, I want to provide a brief overview of the state of the pandemic. CDC’s most recent data show the seven-day average of new cases is now slightly above 62,000 cases per day — a continued increase over the seven-day period.
Similar to cases, new hospitalizations continue to increase, with the most recent seven-day average at nearly 490,050 admissions per day.
The seven-day average of deaths is slightly below 900 deaths per day.
These data continue to be clear: Despite the good news on the vaccination front, we simply cannot yet afford to relax the prevention strategies. We must continue the practice of mitigation strategies we know work, like wearing a mask and physical distancing, in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to see the end of this pandemic.
This is a pivotal moment for our country. As I said before, we are taking unprecedented actions to vaccinate the public as quickly as possible, and millions are being vaccinated each and every day.
We are better equipped than ever before to take on these serious challenges, but we must remain vigilant. Finally, I want to briefly update — a follow-up on a question I received on Wednesday from Nsikan Akpan at New York Public Radio about the B1526 variant and its classification as a variant of interest rather than a variant of concern.
I want to be clear that listing a variant as one of interest rather than a variant of concern does not mean we are not prioritizing the variant or that the variant is not important for us to carefully follow.
Rather, it means that we are still working to understand the variant, gather data on it, and determine its impact on medical therapies, disease severity, and transmissibility.
As we are better able to characterize the variant, its classification may change based on those findings. In the case of B.1.526 — the one most recently found frequently in New York — we continue to assess its prevalence regionally and nationally, its transmissibility, and to conduct studies to understand how its mutations, for example, its E484K mutat- — substitution impact therapeutic and antibody responses. Until those assessments are complete, it will remain a carefully followed variant of interest.
I want to acknowledge today that providing guidance in the midst of a changing pandemic and its changing science is complex. On one hand, we are telling you we are worried about rising cases, to wear a mask, and to avoid travel. Yet, on the other hand, we are saying that if you are vaccinated, evolving data suggests that traveling is likely lower risk.
The science shows us that getting fully vaccinated allows you to do more things safely, and it’s important for us to provide that guidance, even in the context of rising cases.
At the same time, we must balance this guidance with the fact that most Americans are not yet fully vaccinated, which is likely contributing to our rising cases. And that means we have to continue to reinforce messages about the critical importance of COVID-19 prevention measures.
We all want to return to the things we love. Getting more people vaccinated as quickly as possible and taking prevention measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 is the path out of this pandemic and back to our everyday activities.
To help the public understand what actions to take depending on their vaccination status, we have placed updated information for consumers on the CDC.gov website.
Thank you. I will now turn things over to Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. I’d like to just spend a couple of minutes extending what Dr. Walensky said about the real-world effectiveness of the vaccine.
If I could have the first slide.
There have been a couple of things that have occurred over the last several days that are worthy of note. The recent MMWR from the CDC showed that the messenger RNA of both Moderna and Pfizer continues to show a 90 percent effectiveness in real world conditions of health workers. Also, there was a report from Pfizer: about 100 percent protective in adolescence, as well as vaccine protection in adults — up to six months.
This is the MMWR from the CDC, which, as I mentioned a moment ago, showed that for both the Pfizer and the Moderna, there’s a durable efficacy of 90 percent.
I want to point out in the yellow highlighted on the bottom of the slide: There were only 3 PCR-confirmed infections that occurred in almost 79,000 person-days with full immunization, which comes to 0.04 per 1,000 person-days.
This is extraordinary. When you do clinical trials, often the efficacy in the pristine conditions of a trial turn out to be better than the real-world effectiveness. What we are seeing is effectiveness that’s easily as good, if not better, than what we’re seen with the efficacy.
In addition, in this slide here from Pfizer and BioNTech, showed high efficacy up to six months.
But I want to point out one aspect of this that is very interesting. Part of the study was done in South Africa. Although it was relatively small in size, they showed, in the setting of the troublesome B1351 South African variant, that there was six cases in the placebo and zero in the vaccinated group — strongly suggesting the efficacy of the vaccines that we’re using now against problematic variants.
With regard to adolescent populations, the goal obviously is to vaccinate the entire population. And children in adolescence make up about 22 percent of the population. And emerging data suggests that vaccination can prevent asymptomatic carriage. We’re doing further studies to nail this down.
And then, finally, what you see here is that in a study of adolescence where — did a study, most recently, in which it was shown to be literally 100 percent efficacy in which 18 cases of COVID-19 was seen in the placebo group and, again, no cases in the vaccine group.
Currently, there are studies underway in children that go from 6 months to 11 years. And by the end of this year, we should have enough information to be able to safely vaccinate children of virtually any age.
So the bottom-line message is that vaccines work very well in the real-world setting. They work against variants, although we need further data to confirm that. They are durable for at least six months. And they work in adolescence. Very, very good reason for everyone to get vaccinated as soon as it becomes available to you.
Back to you, Jeff.
MR. ZIENTS: Actually over to Dr. Murthy, please.
DR. MURTHY: Well, thank you so much, Jeff. And it’s good to be with you, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky, again. And good to be with everyone who’s joining us this morning.
Yesterday, we announced the next phase of our public education campaign on COVID-19, and I want to provide you today with an update on these efforts and discuss our approach.
Our COVID public education campaign has three goals:
One, provide information. We want to give the American people facts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to protect themselves.
Two, build trust. We need to help build confidence in the vaccines by making sure people get accurate, scientific information from trusted sources.
And three, connect people to vaccines. We need to mobilize our communities across our country to increase awareness of how you can get the vaccine when it’s your turn.
The research is telling us right now that when people decide whether to get vaccinated, they want to hear from the people they know and trust. And that may be a doctor or a nurse, it may be a teacher or a minister, it might be a family member or a friend. And that’s why the most important element of our public education effort is empowering local, trusted voices. We will be providing them with the resources they need to help their communities get vaccinated.
Now, why is this so important? It’s important because we have a big, diverse country; not everyone listens to the same individuals or trusts the same institutions. Misinformation also spreads quickly. And that’s why these trusted community members are essential for health education and empowerment.
I’ve seen this myself firsthand. I’ve seen how conversations with doctors have changed people’s minds as they’ve realized that the science behind the vaccine is sound. I’ve also witnessed how people see their friends and family getting vaccinated, and that helps ease their concerns and build their confidence in the vaccine.
Bottom line is, people look to trusted community members when they have questions and concerns, and we want to support these trusted voices because they have the power to help turn this pandemic around.
And that’s why yesterday we launched the COVID-19 Community Corps. It’s a nationwide grassroots network of health professionals, community organizations, faith leaders, businesses, and Americans from all walks of life who are collectively stepping up to be leaders for their communities in this national vaccination effort. Our plan is to equip them with CDC-approved materials to help them deliver science-based information to their networks. And we are reaching out to everyone, everywhere, to join this effort.
Some of the founding members include sports leagues, like NASCAR, Major League Baseball, and WWE; health professionals, like the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association; industry groups, like the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Farm Bureau; civic organizations, like the NAACP and Unidos; faith-based organizations, like Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army.
As you’re getting a sense, this is a broad coalition of organizations that are trusted in their communities and that are ready to help deliver public health information that can save lives.
Yesterday, we launched with about 275 founding members. And I’m happy to tell you that in less than 24 hours, 2,500 more members have signed up. And our goal is that as this program is established, more and more Americans from all corners of our country will sign up and become Community Corps members themselves.
So if you’re active on social media, if you volunteer with a civic group or at your church or temple, if you run an organization that you think can be helpful, or if you just want to help have an informed conversation with family members around the dinner table, then we need you in this effort. We want to give as many people as we can access to the information they need to choose to get vaccinated and to then help the people they care about make that decision too.
You can sign up and get more information at WeCanDoThis.HHS.gov. That’s WeCanDoThis.HHS.gov.
And, finally, I’ll just say this in closing: You know, this has been a long, hard year for all of us. But despite the suffering that COVID has caused, this pandemic has reminded us of a fundamental truth that we need each other. And together we have the power to end this pandemic. We can do this, but it will take all of us working together, supporting one another and keeping our faith that better days are ahead.
Thank you. And I’ll turn it over to Jeff. I look forward to your questions.
MR. ZIENTS: Wonderful. Thank you, Surgeon General. Let’s open it up for a few questions.
MODERATOR: All right. And I recognize we’re running a little bit late on time, so let’s keep one question each.
First we’ll go to Victoria Knight at Kaiser Health News.
Q Hey, can you hear me?
MR. ZIENTS: Yes.
Q Hi. Yeah, my question is: I’m wondering — I’m a D.C. resident; we’re among the lowest percent of having our population vaccinated — it’s like 14 percent when I checked this morning — and I know there’s a huge demand here. I’m wondering what are you — what is the federal government going to do to help these states and territories that are struggling with the percent of population vaccinated?
MR. ZIENTS: Well, this week was, as I mentioned, a record amount of supply. And that’s a very good start. We need to work with states to ensure that they’re administering shots in arms in an efficient way. And the federal government — the whole of federal government is supporting states and efforts to do so.
We’ve also established, as you know, federal channels, including retail pharmacies, which across the next few weeks will be 40,000 federal vaccine allocations directly to — sorry, allocating — federal allocation to the 40,000 retail pharmacies directly. So that’s quite a coverage across the country with 90 percent of Americans living within five miles.
We’re also making direct federal allocations to community health centers. That program is scaling up to 900. So we’re doing everything we can, both through the federal channels and the state channels, to support efforts to take the increased supply and convert that into shots in arms.
MODERATOR: Stephanie Ebbs at ABC News.
Q Thank you. I wanted to ask about the travel guidance. It addresses the low risk to fully vaccinated individuals, but what do we know about the risk to unvaccinated individuals who might also be traveling? And is that part of the tension Dr. Walensky discussed on the recommendation — or the guidance that travel is safe for fully vaccinated individuals but that you still don’t want people engaging in non-essential travel at this time?
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you for that question. Yes, we haven’t changed our guidance for non-essential travel at all. We are not recommending travel at this time, especially for unvaccinated individuals. Our guidance on unvaccinated individuals really is to limit travel to only essential travel with masking — protective, prevention strategies.
And so our update on this is really only for those who are vaccinated, and that represents about 20 percent of the adult population.
MR. ZIENTS: Next question.
MODERATOR: Jeff Mason, Reuters.
Q Hi, thanks very much. A follow-up on the travel guidelines — and I want to just be clear that this is an honest question and not a “gotcha” question: Dr. Walensky, do you still feel a sense of “impending doom”? And if so, how do you square that with these new guidelines today?
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you for that question. It’s our responsibility at the CDC to look at the evolving evidence of what is lower-risk to do when you are fully vaccinated. And that evolving evidence demonstrates that traveling would be a low-risk activity if you are fully vaccinated. And that was the reason for the update of the guidance.
That said, we are at 64,000 new COVID cases today. And that is — and our numbers continue to increase. Our — we have an increase of 8 percent today.
I still continue to worry that, with 80 percent of the population unvaccinated, that we have a lot of work to do to control this pandemic, which remains my concern.
MODERATOR: Brian Karem, Bulwark.
Q Thank you very much. Two quick questions for Dr. Fauci. Number one: There’s been reports that there have been thousands of cases of the B117 strain that — in the United States — that appear to be deadlier than the original strain. Is there any data to show that that particular strain or any other strain is as lethal or more lethal than the original strain?
And then the second question is the question I get from everyone who isn’t a reporter. Most of us on this call have covered this pandemic since the beginning. Many of us were in the White House Briefing Room, Dr. Fauci, when you first came out and talked to us.
But there are many of those who continue to see that you’ve been vilified by certain members of Congress and that you’re accused of causing a problem that you’re trying to solve. And on a personal level — just the human response — how do you deal with that?
DR. FAUCI: Okay, so the first question about the 117. There seems to be little doubt that the 117 seems to transmit more efficiently from person to person. There is a suggestion that it also causes more severe disease. The proof of that is much more difficult than showing that it’s more transmissible. So I would think, from the reports we’re seeing, it very likely could be a bit more serious, but it definitely is more transmissible.
With regard to your second question, you know, it’s really unfortunate that there is that degree of vilification of me. And I just think it’s a reflection, you know, I guess, of concern about what we’re doing now compared to what was being done before. I tend to — you asked me how I deal with it. I deal with it by trying, to the best of my ability, to not pay attention to it.
I have a very serious and important job now as the Chief Medical Advisor on COVID-19 to President Biden, and I really want to use all my energy to focus on how — together with the medical team, which is an extraordinary team here — how I can be part of that team and function with value added. If I start worrying about the slings and the arrows that get thrown at me, it would be a distraction. And I tend to not want to be distracted. That’s how I deal with it.
MR. ZIENTS: Next question.
MODERATOR: Last question. We’ll go to Josh Wingrove at Bloomberg.
Q Thank you again for taking the call. Dr. Walensky, I believe you just said that the CDC is not recommending nonessential travel, even for vaccinated people. Another — Andy Slavitt tweeted something similar. The written report doesn’t say that.
Can you just clarify: Are you — should fully vaccinated people be doing nonessential travel or not? Or is it just unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people that should be avoiding that?
And, Jeff, can you just clarify, on Johnson & Johnson — they said 24 million doses in April. Would you have expected that number to be higher if Emergent had been approved rather than had these issues at its plant? Thank you.
DR. WALENSKY: Yeah. So I would say, generally, we know that travel was up for the month of March, more so than it had been since the beginning of this pandemic. We know that right now we have a surging number of cases. I would advocate against general travel overall.
Our guidance is silent on recommending or not recommending fully vaccinated people travel. Our guidance speaks to the safety of doing so. If you’re al- — if you are vaccinated, it is lower risk.
MR. ZIENTS: On Johnson & Johnson: As you know, Josh, they delivered 20 million doses by the end of March. The company has committed to 24 million by the end of April, and, importantly, to be at or near the 100 million by the end of May.
We’ve seen with all of the vaccine manufacturers — meaning Moderna and Pfizer — a ramp up across time. So Moderna and Pfizer are now in a steady cadence, week to week. That’s not something that Johnson & Johnson has yet achieved.
So 20 million delivered to date — 24 million is the target that the company has committed to for April. Most importantly, the company is committed to being at or near 100 million doses by the end of May.
Stepping back, we will have enough supply for all adults Americans by the end of May, which is what is most important here.
Thank you for joining today, and I hope everybody has a good weekend. And we look forward to seeing you on Monday. Thank you.
12:13 P.M. EDT
To view the COVID Briefing Slides, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/COVID-Press-Briefing_2April2021_for-transcript.pdf