Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials
11:03 A.M. EDT
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us today. Today, I’m joined by Drs. Walensky and Fauci.
What I want to start is with the President’s speech yesterday. After we exceeded the two goals that the President set in his first 100 days, yesterday, the President announced a goal of the next leg of the U.S. vaccination effort: to get 70 percent of adults vaccinated with at least one shot and 160 million Americans fully vaccinated by July 4th. That amounts to approximately 100 million shots over the next two months.
The infrastructure that we’ve have built over the first 100 days with millions of vaccines, tens of thousands of vaccination locations, and a comprehensive network of community relationships will be critical in helping us meet this new goal.
So, how are we going to get 70 percent of adults to have their first shot by July 4th? Well, “we” — the government — are not. But “we” — the people — have a very good chance.
If you look at this slide, you’ll see a visual representation of our approach. That’s right. We are going to make it as easy as possible for every American to get a vaccine.
Want to know where to get vaccinated? Take out your phone. Text your ZIP Code to GETVAX — G-E-T-V-A-X. That’s 438829. That’s right — text your ZIP Code to 438829, and you will be texted back three locations near you with vaccines in stock. Easy.
Or if you prefer the information in Spanish, text your ZIP Code to VACUNA. That’s 822862. Easy.
Prefer a specific vaccine? No problem. Click on the text or visit Vaccines.gov. You can sort that way. Easy.
There are more than 75,000 places you can go to get a shot. In fact, 90 percent of Americans live with — have a vaccine, right now, within five miles of them. Easy.
Prefer not to make an appointment? No problem. At the President’s direction, many no-appointment, walk-in vaccinations are available.
Yesterday, the President directed all our federal pharmacy partners to begin providing walk-in vaccinations wherever supply allows. That means Americans will be able to get vaccinated without an appointment at the majority of our nearly 40,000 local pharmacy locations nationwide.
Need a ride? Uber and Lyft are offering free and discounted rides.
Live in a remote or rural area without a vaccine near you? We are sending doses directly to rural clinics, and expanding mobile vaccination sites and pop-up clinics.
And we will announce a call-in number designed for people without broadband or cell phones where we will help people make appointments and remove other barriers preventing them from getting vaccinated.
Easy and convenient and free. Vaccines for everyone: That’s what we’re focused on in this next phase.
You probably can remove the slide.
The next set of Americans to get vaccinated tell us they have another priority: Getting the facts they need and their questions answered so they know they are taking a safe and effective vaccine. As the President said yesterday, many people will need to get involved and take some responsibility to meet this goal.
We know that many people who haven’t been vaccinated yet have — vaccinated yet have questions that they want answered. They want to observe the response of people who have been vaccinated.
So, if you’re one of the nearly 150 million Americans who has been vaccinated, this is your call to action. People want to know what your experience was like. So please, talk with your friends, family, neighbors, and community. Share why you chose to get vaccinated, what it was like to get one, and how it felt when you finally got the vaccine.
I got my vaccine, as did my family, and it a major, major transition for our lives. I got the vaccine from Pfizer. My mother got the vaccine from Moderna. My wife, from Moderna. One of my sons, from Johnson & Johnson. The other one, from Pfizer. And it was a great experience for all of us. In fact, I was able to see my mother, last weekend, for the first time in quite a long time.
And even my son who doesn’t really like needles said this was not a big deal. It wasn’t — it didn’t hurt. So, that’s a first.
Later, I think I will be asking Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky, at some point, to share their vaccination story at their presen- — when they give presentations as well.
They’re conversations that we have to have with people. They’re powerful and they work. In January, only 47 percent of people had either received a vaccine or wanted to get vaccinated as soon as they can. That number is over 60 percent today, according to Kaiser. And many more are open to the vaccine if they find it easy and if they can get their questions answered.
As the President has said, it takes all of us doing our part. That’s why the President has also called on businesses to make sure people have paid time off to get vaccinated. More than 1,000 businesses have so far.
We are also working with major businesses to provide special deals and promotions for those who get vaccinated. The numbers are endless and they’re happening all the time.
As examples: At Albertsons and Safeway, you can get 10 percent off your groceries. At Target or CVS, you can get $5 off any purchase. If you show your vaccination card at The Vitamin Shoppe, you can get a free snack. There may be some not-as-healthy options, like beer and donuts if that’s your thing.
Sports leagues like NASCAR, NFL, MLB, and Major League Soccer are also joining the effort by offering ticket giveaways, in-stadium vaccination programs and discounts on merchandise.
We’re also providing more resources to enable all of this. Yesterday, we announced significant investments that will enhance and expand vaccination education efforts. This includes $250 million in funding for community-based organizations to help them conduct on-the-ground outreach; more than $130 million for community — community-based organizations to support vaccine education efforts in underserved communities; and nearly $250 million in funding to help states and other jurisdictions power vaccine education efforts in their own communities.
The bottom line is: Getting to our next goal is a test of many things, including our commitment to one another. It’s our ability to talk to one another and listen. We have to be patient and supportive as people make these decisions. We can’t write anyone off, and we have to mobilize everyone in this next phase. Because, again, it really does take all of us to get the job done.
That’s how we deliver 220 million shots in arms in the President’s first 100 days. That’s what will help us meet the President’s new and important goal of 70 percent of adult Americans with at least one shot and 160 million fully vaccinated Americans by July 4th.
It necessary- — won’t necessarily be easy, but as the President likes to say: There’s nothing — nothing Americans can’t do if we do it together.
And, with that, I’ll turn it to Dr. Walensky.
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you, Andy. Good morning, everyone. And I’m pleased to be back with you today. We’ll start with an overview of the data. Yesterday, CDC reported just over 32,000 new cases of COVID-19. Our seven-day average is about 48,000 cases per day. This represents yet another decrease of about 12 percent from the prior seven-day average. And every day with the daily cases continuing to fall, we are hopeful about these really encouraging trends.
The seven-day average of hospital admissions is just over 3,900. Again, a positive sign with another back-to-back decrease of almost 10 percent from the prior seven-day period. And seven-day average daily deaths have also declined to a new low of 400 per day.
Something I’m often asked is: When will this pandemic be over, and when can we go back to normal? The reality is, it all depends on the actions we take now.
Today, CDC published an article in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that provides some insights using data and evidence to show various scenarios of what will happen with cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and how it depends on how many people get vaccinated and whether we continue to follow prevention measures.
The study, which CDC did in collaboration with a large group of academic researchers, is the first multi-model effort to project the long-term trajectories of COVID-19 in real time in the United States under different scenarios.
The team looked at four scenarios, each with different assumptions about vaccination coverage, combined with other strategies to prevent spread of COVID-19 — such as physical distancing, masking, isolation, and quarantine. The models forecasted some really good news, and an important reminder.
In good news, the model’s projected a sharp decline in cases by July 2021, and an even faster decline if more people get vaccinated sooner. The results remind us that we have the path out of this. And models once projecting really grim news now offer reasons to be quite hopeful for what the summer may bring.
And the models give us an important reminder: They project that local conditions and emerging variants are putting many states at risk for increases in COVID-19 cases, especially if we do not increase the rate of vaccinations and if we do not keep our current mitigation strategies in place until we have a critical mass of people vaccinated.
More specifically, we need to keep vaccinating people, but we all need to keep practicing certain prevention interventions to help us get to the predicted good outcomes.
Although we are seeing progress in terms of decreased cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, variants are a wildcard that could reverse this progress we have made and could set us back.
Reassuringly, as Dr. Fauci said on Friday, we are seeing that our current vaccines are protecting against the predominant variants circulating in the country. Simply put, the sooner we get more and more people vaccinated, the sooner we will all get back to normal.
As I look at this report, I’m encouraged and hopeful by the positive impact of our rapid rollout of vaccination in the United States, and look forward to reaching President Biden’s next target of 70 percent of adult Americans with at least one shot by July 4th, and then followed, in turn, by the second shot.
When we learn — what we learned from this report is that we are not out of the woods yet, but we could be very close. All of us who are getting fully vaccinated and continuing our prevention efforts can help us turn the corner on the pandemic as early as July, and set us forward on a path toward a more normal lifestyle.
I’ll stop here and turn things over to Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. What I’d like to do over the next couple of minutes is talk about the relative degree of protection following natural infection versus vaccine, and the combination of the two.
Can I have the first slide, please?
A couple of statements first to set the stage. We know that reinfections with a homologous strain, namely the same strain as initial infection, remain rare. They occur, but they’re rare. Vaccination in people previously infected significantly boosts the immune response and likely, as I’m going to show you in a moment, providing better protection against certain variants.
And then the issue of vaccines actually, at least with regard to SARS-CoV-2, can do better than nature.
This is not a new concept. On the left, there is a paper that I actually wrote about, I’d say, almost 30 years ago — about 30 years ago — actually, it’s exactly 30 years this coming June. When we’re looking at HIV — and I raised the question: Was natural infection, vaccination, or both — what’s optimum? So that’s something that we were at least talking about some time ago.
In the middle, the same thing for influenza: We looked at the prospects for broadly protected influenza vaccine, and looking at immunity that’s natural versus vaccine. And then, finally, just a few years ago, we revisited HIV again, namely improving on natural immunity. And that’s what I’m going to talk to you about in the next minute or two.
First concept: If you look at this paper from a week or two ago, showed that there was significant differences in the antibody responses elicited by natural infection versus vaccination. In other words, two doses of an mRNA gave antibody titers up to 10 times more than when you recover from a natural infection. So that’s one interesting and important concept.
If you take a look now at what happens if you have prior infection and then you get vaccinated. And in this study — again, from about a week or so ago — after one dose of the Pfizer mRNA, people who had been previously infected actually showed enhanced both T-cell immunity as well as neutralizing antibodies not only against the wild type, but interesting, as I alluded to several sessions ago, you even get some spillover of infection against variants.
If you look at this slide — again, antibody response for people who were previously infected — and then boost it with two doses of an mRNA, you had interesting increased protection against the variants of concern.
So if you look at the panels on the righthand part of the slide, the four panels are a response against four different viruses — some wild type, some variants. If you look at the orange, those are individuals with no history of (inaudible) infection who were then vaccinated.
Take a look at the blue dots — always significantly higher than the orange dots. And those are people who were previously infected, recovered, and then at some time later got vaccinated. You can see they’re protected not only against the wild type, but against the 351 from South Africa and the P1.
Now, remember: These are only laboratory data, have not been proven in the clinic, but they are really very interesting and things that we need to follow up on.
Here’s another example of viral neutralization in individuals who recovered from infection prior to and following a single immunization with Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA. Again, if you look at the left, if individuals before vaccination — you could see that the cross reactivity against various variants is relatively low. But these people who were recovered from a prior infection — when you vaccinate them, you see a reasonably good response here again against 351 and even SARS-CoV-1.
Next slide. Next slide.
And so, to repeat what Andy mentioned to you just a little bit ago, in case you didn’t get a chance to write it down: We need to get vaccinated because vaccines are highly efficacious. They are better than the traditional response you get from natural infection. So, making it easy, as Andy said, you can go to Vaccines.gov or you can text the ZIP Code into this particular app — 438829 in English; or in Spanish, 822862. Get vaccinated.
Back to you, Andy.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Thank you. Thank you very much, Tony.
Okay, let’s go to questions.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Andy. First question, let’s go to Jack Jenkins, at Religious New Service.
Q Hello. Thank you so much for taking my question. The — my question is just that, you know, the — there was a survey released last month that kind of showed that white Evangelicals in particular were a group that was showing a disproportionate amount of vaccine hesitancy as well as vaccine — potential vaccine refusals. And that was in addition to other religious groups.
That same survey also showed that, you know, white Evangelicals and other groups could potentially be better served or move from that vaccine hesitancy, as well as that vaccine refusal, if they are appealed to by faith leaders or there are faith-rooted appeals.
With that in mind, is there any — understanding that this group has said before that the White House is not always the best messenger, what have — is there any plans specifically to help reach these groups, in addition to what has already been done? And is there any concern that they could, you know, be an impediment to reaching something appearing or, you know close to herd immunity?
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Yeah, thank you for the question. It’s a good — it’s a good question. You know, the question that — I imagine others will have it most broadly is — I think it’s a little bit dangerous to typecast people who have not yet made the decision to get a vaccine, other than to say some people making this decision required very little information — they knew right away they wanted a vaccine. And some people want to take more consideration. They may want to know about the side effect profile. They may want to know how 150 million people have done getting vaccinated. And those are people of all religions; those are people of all political parties.
It is true that people do want to hear from people that they trust and, in many cases, a faith leader is someone who they trust. We have engaged, as early as January, with faith leaders both Evangelical — across the map really, and have been very heartened by the very proactive outreach and partnership that we’ve had, and they’ve been involved in many of our calls and many of our conversations.
It’s really part of our effort, though, to get reliable information — the kind of information that Drs. Walensky and Fauci talk about here and that the CDC produces — into the hands of people locally, so that when someone talks to someone they trust — whether it’s a faith leader, whether it’s a doctor, whether it’s a pharmacist, or whether it’s somebody else — they can get a straight answer, as opposed to having to rely on social media, where who knows what they’re going to get.
MODERATOR: Brian Karem at The Bulwark.
Q Thank you. Thank you very much. My question is for Dr. Fauci: Is there any indication that the efficacy of the current viruses — I mean, I’m sorry, of the current vaccines are in danger of being compromised by existing variants? And what is the scientific data to show that?
DR. FAUCI: Well, there are a number of variants, and you’d have to take them one by one. Let me just give you some representative ones to give, I guess, an answer to your broader question.
So there’s a variant that we’re all familiar with now; it’s dominant in our own country, originating in the UK, called 117. The vaccines that induce antibodies, the ones we use in this country, are really quite effective in protection against that variant.
Take another variant: the one that is dominant in South Africa– the 351 variant. When you do in-vitro testing, about the — the vaccines that induce antibodies here in our own country — the mRNAs and others — that you have a rather significant diminution of multiple-fold efficacy in the test tube. But it isn’t enough to completely obliterate a certain degree of protection.
When you get the J&J, which is the only one that has the field experience with that, you can see that you may not protect as well against symptomatic infection, the efficacy goes down to about 60 or 50 percent. However, it protects extremely well against advanced disease in the form of hospitalization and death.
And then you have homegrown variants: the ones in California, the 526 in New York. The diminution is modest in the sense of two- to threefold in the test tube. That’s something that is telling us that likely the vaccines will protect reasonably well.
The one that people are asking questions about is the 619 in –- 617, excuse me, in India. We are collecting data right now in real time, and hopefully within the next several days to a week, we’ll be able to make a determination as to what the effect of antibodies induced by our vaccines are against that particular variant.
So again, a number of variants — different answers to each variant.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Thank you. Next question.
MODERATOR: Josh Wingrove, Bloomberg.
Q Thank you very much. Andy, can you talk a little bit more about the steps that the President outlined yesterday? He talked about a more granular approach to, you know, get shots into every nook and cranny, more or less. Can you give us some specific examples of doing that?
And he also talked about making vaccines available as quickly as possible if they’re authorized for that 12-to-15 age group. How are you going to do that? Is this — are pediatricians offices where you would target that? Is it schools? How are — how is this age group going to be able to access the vaccine? Thank you.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Thanks, Josh. I’ll start with the 12-to-15 question. We obviously are awaiting the FDA’s decision. And so, I don’t want any of my comments to be interpreted in any way assuming or pressuring the FDA on which way they’re going to come out of things.
But if it is approved or authorized, as we expect, we have the ability to move very, very quickly on a number of fronts.
Number one, using the existing infrastructure for the distribution of the Pfizer vaccine.
Number two, using infrastructure that has been deployed historically to pediatricians’ offices to provide childhood vaccinations.
Number three, engaging directly with people who are — parents will want to talk to, to understand about — understand these vaccines. So as soon as the FDA and, I should say, the CDC committee provides information, we will be getting that information to people so parents can make quick decisions.
We know that kids want to go to camp this summer. We know parents want them to be safe. We know that parents prefer to have that done — if they want that done without masks, vaccinations are the best answer. So we are prepared to move as quickly as we can after any kind of authorization.
In terms of the other initiatives the President spoke about yesterday, he really broke them into a few different categories, but all of them are really thinking of them as leveraging a lot of the investments that we’ve made to date.
Number one, in making sure that we vaccines near everybody. So, we’ve talked about this with regard to five miles within 90 percent of Americans, but what about the other 10 percent? People who live in remote and rural districts. So, we are activating the Rural Health Center Community Network and moving vaccines there.
We are making sure that people who don’t have access to vaccines, because they just simply work all day, don’t necessarily get the time off of work, that we’re hoping that they will get — and just can’t — maybe don’t have the transportation or the childcare — will be able to have walk-in appointments. So if you walk into a pharmacy, you should be able to increasingly get a vaccine without an appointment.
Helping people find their vaccine — the slide that Dr. Fauci put up — 438829 — text your ZIP Code. People will be amazed at how close they are to vaccines.
And working with employers — over 1,000 businesses that are giving employees time off.
So, you’ll see, I think, a very long list of things that we have been working on, quite frankly, for months, to get prepared for this time, to get prepared to communicate to people, to get prepared to make sure that vaccines find people if people aren’t going out of the way to find them, to make it easy, and to make sure that people’s questions get answered when they’re making decisions about how to get — how and whether to get vaccinated.
MODERATOR: Carl O’Donnell, Reuters.
Q Hi. Thanks for taking my question. So, I wanted to ask you guys — you know, there’s been plenty reports out now that Pfizer has been distributing shots to other countries from some of its U.S.-based manufacturing facilities. Obviously, that’s different than, you know, the White House, in, you know, some cases, such as with AstraZeneca, talking about helping provide some of its own allocations to countries in need. But it still amounts to, you know, the U.S., helping other countries access shots to a greater degree than before.
So I’m curious as to what level of involvement the White House is having in, sort of, directing those exports. Are they trying to steer them towards, you know, countries with the greatest need, for example, the highest case count? Or is this strictly, sort of, a private decision by Pfizer to, you know, other governments that it has its own contracts with? Thank you.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Well, as you may be aware, the prior administration prohibited that — that type of export. We’ve lifted that.
And just to review some of the bidding so far: With our own vaccine supply, we have been supplying vaccine, we announced, to Mexico and to Canada. We also announced that we would be exporting the entire block of AstraZeneca vaccines to countries that have approved AstraZeneca just as soon as we have approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
One of the things that President announced yesterday is that, by the time we get to July 4th, a full 10 percent of our stock of vaccines that we’ve acquired will have been distributed to other countries at a minimum. So that’s very important as part of our commitment.
Now, Pfizer, as a practical matter, has relationships with other countries and strikes contracts with other countries. And we are pleased that we will be able to be a net exporter of vaccines and still have enough — and still have plenty of vaccines to make sure we vaccinate the public.
One of the benefits, I will say, of everybody getting vaccinated as quickly as possible is it will allow us to do a better job leading the way and helping the globe get their vaccines as well.
MODERATOR: Shannon Pettypiece, NBC.
Q Hi, I wanted to ask about the summer camp guidance. I was wondering if Dr. Walensky could respond to some criticism about having kids wear masks outdoors, given that you guys have all talked about the low-level spread outdoor and the low level of transmission among younger children.
You know, Dr. Walensky, could you talk at all about the data or the evidence that the CDC used to make that determination — that kids need to be wearing masks outdoors — you know, just in all scenarios regardless of vaccination status? Is there any middle ground there where kids wouldn’t have to wear masks outdoors at camp?
DR. WALENSKY: Yeah, thank you for that question. So we have two sets of guidance: We have guidance for masking — if you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated — outdoors; and we also have this camp guidance.
Certainly, if we have authorization for 12- to 15-year-olds, and they can get vaccinated before going to camp, that’s what I would advocate for so that they can take their masks off outdoors.
We also have guidance — the camp guidance and the outdoor guidance — for individuals who are unvaccinated. So those who are 12 and under who are attending camp. And we have some availability of wear — not wearing your mask outdoors in small groups, in groups with other children who are vaccinated.
What we’re really trying to avoid in this camp guidance is what we saw in outbreaks in camps last summer. So if you have five 10-year-olds who are on a soccer field, all in front of the same soccer ball, we’re trying to make sure that there are not a lot of heavy breathing around a singular soccer ball with five kids around it at the same time.
But for spread-out activities, our outdoor mask guidance for unvaccinated people, small groups, allows for those kids to be unvaccinated. And we — what we really are trying to do is ensure that all of these kids can have a really good camp experience and keep the camps open without any outbreaks.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Next question.
MODERATOR: Last question. Let’s go to Zeke Miller at the AP.
Q Thank you. Drs. Walensky and Dr. Fauci, I was hoping you might be able to expand a little bit about what the U.S. will look like — assuming the vaccination rate meets, and the — and the caseload looks like what, you know, the best-case scenario that CDC put out in this — in the models this morning.
You know, the vaccination — if the President hits his goal of 70 percent vaccinated and 160 million double -– you know, fully vaccinated by July 4th, what, at that point, you know, should people expect or hope for the country to look like — whether that be their mask wearing, business openings, sports games, restaurants to the extent — to the extent of — you know, can you provide sort of a — you know, more of a reason for people to get vaccinated and to follow some of these mitigation measures in this final — in this too much — in this two-month stretch right now?
DR. WALENSKY: I can start with that and maybe just say: You know we’re really looking forward to seeing that time. We’re looking at both the rates of vaccination as well as the rates of cases come down, and it’ll be the intersection of those two that we’re really looking at.
When we see that intersection — high vaccination rates, low case rates — we will look forward to releasing further guidance on releasing some of the restrictions that we currently have in place.
One thing I want to just clarify here is: While we talk about 70 percent of this country, these outbreaks are local; they’re happening in communities. And so, if we don’t have 70 percent in any given community, this virus will be an opportunist and we’ll have outbreaks in those singular communities.
So not only is it 70 percent across the nation, but it’s a 70 — 70 percent in each of these individual communities.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Dr. Fauci, anything you want to add to that?
DR. FAUCI: Yeah. Yeah, Andy, certainly. Just to — well, to underscore what Dr. Walensky said, but also — I mean, to take a typical example: I mean, if you have a community — it’s very important to realize we live in a large country, heterogeneous, and you’re going to have different rates of vaccination, different levels of infection.
But if you are in a particular community — a town, a city, or what have you — and you have the 70 percent vaccination that the President is aiming for, with a single dose in adults, and you will see, guaranteed, the level of infection go very low, you can start looking at things that you were restricted from doing that gradually you will see the CDC lifting the restrictions. That would be anything from indoor dining, to the workplace, to sports arenas, to theaters, to things like that.
I don’t know exactly which it’s going to be and which will come first, but the bottom line is you will be seeing a clear, noticeable pulling back on some of the public health restrictions.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Great. Let me close with my thanks, my encouragement for everybody to get vaccinated, and, of course, by reminding you once again, that all you have to do is text your ZIP Code to 438829 and you’ll figure out where to get vaccinated.
And we will be talking to you again on Friday. Thank you.
11:37 A.M. EDT
To view the COVID Press Briefing slides, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/COVID-Press-Briefing_5May2021_for-transcript.pdf