Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials
1:34 P.M. EDT
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us. Today, one of my goals is to avoid embarrassment, and therefore, I will focus my remarks squarely on the serious business of the progress of vaccinating the country.
So I begin by talking about VAX-a-Million. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has unlocked a secret: People do care about getting vaccinated, but it turns out they also have other things they care about. Some of those things might encourage people to think about what might otherwise be a lower priority. So, every week for the next five weeks, one Ohioan will win $1 million. The only way to win is to get vaccinated. Vaccines — patriotic, free, good for your social life, and a chance to win.
In the days after Ohio announced the program, the state saw a 55 percent increase in its vaccination rate among younger adults 20 to 49 years of age. In several counties, the rate of vaccination doubled compared to before the announcement. In other words, the program is working. Since then, we’ve seen more states, including Maryland, New York, and Oregon announce similar programs. We are nothing if not responsive to good ideas.
Today, the Treasury Department issued new guidance on these programs, providing additional information on how federal funds in the American Rescue Plan can be used for vaccine incentive programs.
And the bottom line is: With this guidance, we encourage states to use their creativity to draw attention to vaccines and to get their states and the country back to normal as quickly as possible. This includes lottery programs for vaccinated individuals — cash or in-kind transfers or other monetary incentives — for individuals to get vaccinated.
Dozens of businesses and organizations have also responded to the President’s call to action to volunteer their services and help the American people get vaccinated. For example, yesterday, United Airlines announced that every day in the month of June, they’re giving away two round-trip, first-class tickets to anywhere in the world if you are vaccinated, and they will give away five sets of round-trip tickets to travel anywhere in the world for an entire year. The only way to qualify is to get vaccinated.
So people may say all of this is frivolous. I say: Anything that ends the pandemic, it’s time for us to pull out now.
For those on the fence, find whatever reason you want to get vaccinated. For those not sure yet, do your homework. Talk to your doctor or your pharmacist. All concerns are reasonable, but do yourself a favor: Don’t let some guy on Facebook answer your question when good answers are available.
Today, the U.S. will hit 50 percent of adult Americans that are fully vaccinated. This is a major milestone in our country’s vaccination efforts. The number was 1 percent when we entered office January 20th.
Across the country, 25 states and the District of Columbia have fully vaccinated 50 percent or more of their adult population, and 9 states have recently crossed the threshold of 70 percent of adults with at least one shot. I really do want to applaud all of the good work and applaud all the people in those states.
And, of course, the progress that we’ve made — we’ve reduced suffering across the country — is due to all of you who have gotten vaccinated; who’ve contributed not only to your health, but to mine and my family’s and my friends and yours, and the health of people who can’t get vaccinated because of their medical condition. You’ve contributed to our country.
You might be seeing all the positive news around you — cases down, deaths down, friends safely shedding their masks, businesses reopening — and think you’re in the clear.
But we have a couple of messages: We have more work to do to meet the President’s goal of 70 percent of adult Americans with one shot by July 4th, and, unless you’re vaccinated, you are at risk. When the virus looks for a place to spread and it doesn’t spread to a vaccinated person, it will look for you.
So, I hope you’ll go to Vaccines.gov or text your ZIP Code to 438829 or walk into one of the more than 20,000 locations where you don’t even need an appointment and get vaccinated today.
And with that, I will turn it over to Dr. Walensky.
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you, Andy. Good afternoon. Let’s begin with an overview of the data.
We continue to see decreases in the COVID-19 cases nationwide. Our seven-day average is 22,877 cases per day. This represents yet another decrease of about 25 percent from the prior seven-day average and reflects seven contex- — consecutive days with our seven-day average below 30,000 cases a day. The seven-day average of hospital admissions is 3,080, a decrease of almost 17 percent from the prior seven-day period. And seven-day average daily deaths have also declined to two- –to 501 per day.
We are continuing to watch these data closely, and I remain cautious but hopeful they will continue to trend downward as vaccinations scales up.
This coming weekend is Memorial Day. I know that many of you are looking forward to spending time with your family and friends at picnics and bar (inaudible). Thanks to vaccines, tens of millions of Americans are able to get back to something closer to normal: visiting friends and family. These are the events we missed over the last year, and we are now safe (inaudible) when we are vaccinated.
This past weekend, I got to spent time outside with my family, and I was encouraged to see so many others outside and to see so many of their smiles, working to regain so much of what we have lost. All of this is possible because vaccinations are going up and cases and risk of community transmission across the country are going down.
Here are the important points to remember going into Memorial Day weekend: If you are vaccinated, you are protected and you can enjoy your Memorial Day. If you are not vaccinated, our guidance has not changed for you. You remain at risk of infection. You still need to mask and take other precautions. And if you are not vaccinated, I want to encourage you to take this holiday weekend to give yourself and your family the gift of protection by getting vaccinated.
We are on a good downward path, but we are not quite out of the woods yet. Cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are all declining because of the millions of people who have stepped forward and done their part to protect their health and the health of their communities to move us out of this pandemic. Here’s to the start of blue st- — skies and better days ahead.
Please, everyone, enjoy a safe, happy, and vaccinated Memorial Day weekend. Thank you. I’ll now turn things over to Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. So let me just talk a little bit about the situation regarding how well we are doing in the care and the treatment of people with COVID-19.
As you can see from this chart, the case fatality rate of the ongoing pandemic has dramatically diminished over a period of about a year, such that we’re down to around 2 percent or so. This is due not only to being able to take care of people better in a non-pharmacological way, but also to be able to utilize some of the interventions that have been shown to be safe and effective.
I spoke to this group previously about the NIH treatment guidelines panel, which is accessible on the website shown here: www.COVID19TreatmentGuidelines.NIH.gov. If you can’t remember that, just go NIH.gov and search for “treatment guidelines.”
The reason I show you this — and I know it’s very difficult to read the small print — is that we now have compartmentalized the disease severity and the most appropriate therapies from people not hospitalized to those hospitalized without severe disease; for those hospitalized requiring oxygenation; those hospitalized requiring delivery through high-flow devices; and those hospitalized requiring mechanical ventilation or “ECMO.”
I would like to have people realize that continuing going to this treatment guidelines panel website, literally on a daily basis, you can get a feel for what the latest data are in the treatment of individuals. Here’s an example.
Just about four days ago, it was posted, on this pre-print server, the results from a Regeneron trial using their combination cocktail monoclonal antibodies, which showed a rather substantial diminution in the risk of hospitalization or all-cause death compared to a placebo. This will immediately be on the treatment guidelines panel.
I just want to also introduce you to something that we have been using at the NIH and with our collaborators. It’s called “ACTIV”, which is the Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines, which is a public-private partnership in which we’ve evaluated hundreds of potential therapeutic agents and prioritizing the most promising candidates to test in later clinical trials.
These protocols are coordinated and efficient evaluation of multiple investigational agents as they become available.
And these are some of the ones that we have. There’s an ACTIV-1 trial on immunomodulators; ACTIV-2 on monoclonal antibodies; ACTIV-3 on monoclonal antibodies together with other therapies; ACTIV-4 with antithrombotics; and ACTIV-5, which we call the “BET,” or Big Effect Trial, aims to identify promising treatments for large trials; and, finally, repurposed drugs, which we’re always trying to see if we have a hit there.
And, finally, just something I didn’t get a chance to mention to you when I spoke about vaccines and variants. A little bit off the current topic, but this is very important. Because Public Health England, just about three days ago, published that their clinical trial, looking at Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca, show that two weeks after the second dose, there was extremely good protection not only against the predominant variant B117, but also against 617.
So, the same thing I mentioned a couple of weeks ago: importance that when you look at vaccines, things get better and better. I’ll stop there and hand it over to Marcella.
DR. NUNEZ-SMITH: Thank you so much, Dr. Fauci. Good afternoon, everyone. Just great to be with you to provide a brief update on where we are with equity.
Last week when I joined, I shared the very encouraging equity trends that we’ve seen in the federal vaccination channels. The majority of those vaccine doses have been administered to people of color at the federally run mass vaccination centers, through the community health center partnership, and most recently, we see similar trends through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.
So, today, I want to speak briefly to the states, the Tribes, the territories, and to local jurisdictions: We all know equity is a team sport, and I just want to say thank you to all of you for centering equity in your vaccination campaigns and for the collaboration.
As we look at our national data now on race, ethnicity, it continues to suggest close to the majority of first-vaccine doses administered to adults in recent weeks are going to people of color. And we’ve made substantial, significant progress in data collection and reporting: We’ve gone from 17 states reporting those variables in January to 48 states reporting them now.
And we also see that data completeness is improving: Race/ethnicity data in approximately 70 percent of administered doses in the country are now available, and that’s up from the low 50s previously. And so this is an important milestone. And as data quality continues to improve, we will have greater confidence as we use these data to guide and drive outreach, engagement, and resource investment.
We all have more work to do. We have to continue to ensure everyone who is at “yes” does not face barriers to vaccination — assisting with transportation; creating more walk-up opportunities; having flexible hours; making sure that vaccination menus are accessible; being clear that insurance is not required, vaccines are free — no one will have out-of- pocket costs; and being clear everyone is eligible regardless of documentation status; and partnering with employers so people have paid time off for vaccination; and, of course, always meeting people where they are.
So we must also recognize many groups have been hard hit by the pandemic. Equity metrics are not limited to race and ethnicity. We must be intentional about place, reaching rural frontier communities. We have to work to remedy data invisibility. The disability community, the LGBTQ-plus community — among others — are often hidden in our data.
Our role of race/ethnicity categories — such as Asian American; Native Ameri- — Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander — mask subgroup differences and should be better desegregated.
So, at the White House, we’re continuing our stakeholder roundtables to make sure these voices are elevated and represented in order to better inform our work.
So across all of the partnerships — state, local, federal, clinical providers, community faith-based organizations, philanthropy — thank you for continuing to prioritize equity. We need everyone in this effort if we’re going to be successful. We will use every tool in our tool belt to position all of our communities for success so, together, we can ensure every community makes it to the other side of the pandemic and to our new normal. So, thank you.
With that, back to you, Andy.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Thank you, Dr. Nunez-Smith. Kevin, let’s take a few questions. Here comes Kevin. One moment, please.
MODERATOR: Thanks, guys. Let’s go to Cheyenne Haslett at ABC.
Q Okay, great. I just was able to unmute. Thank you for taking the question. So, we’re reporting that General Perna just told the governors, earlier today, that there are 53 million doses available to the states that have yet to be ordered in the federal supply. I want to ask if you have a response to that, and at what point you think you’ll be able to steal the — steer these doses elsewhere to other countries.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Yeah. Thanks for the question. This — the sound working? Okay. All right, all of our problems have been fixed now.
So, the question is to — how we were handling excess doses and global doses. The President announced, I believe it was two weeks ago, that we were going to be taking 20 million of the doses that were designated for distribution in the U.S. and adding them to the 60 million doses that we previously committed to distributing around the globe. So, by the end of June, we know that 80 million doses will be distributed across the globe.
We’ve also implemented an even tighter distribution system for vaccinations — for vaccines to states so to — to even more tightly manage the supply chain. So, we will be able to keep track of and be able to export additional vaccines to the extent that we have the capacity.
I will say that it is our first objective and prime hope that people in this country use the doses that we have all procured and that are — that are clearly our path to better health and to getting back to normal. And so we are going to work with states to use every single dose possible, as you heard Dr. Nunez-Smith talk about, making sure that we reach out to people as aggressively as possible where they are and get them vaccinated.
MODERATOR: Thanks. Let’s go to Tamara Keith at NPR.
Q Thank you for taking my question. I know that you expressed excitement about this coming Memorial Day weekend. Remembering a year ago — and there were so many concerns about whether it would be safe or whether it would lead to a bunch of super-spreader events — are you at all concerned that the, sort of, masks-off, life-is-back-to-normal reality is going to lead to unvaccinated people having super-spreader-type events? Are you worried cases could rise after Memorial Day?
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Thanks, Tamara. Dr. Walensky?
DR. WALENSKY: So we have seen — we have seen after holiday weekends in the past that cases have risen, but we’ve never been in a position where we’ve had almost ha- — half the adults of America vaccinated and protected from this virus.
Our guidance is very clear: If you are vaccinated, you are protected. And if you are unvaccinated, in the context of Memorial Day weekend, we are really encouraging you to adhere to our guidance for people who are unvaccinated, and, of course, to get vaccinated.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Next question.
Q Hi, thanks for taking my question. We know that Moderna is going to be applying for an EUA for teens. What is the significance of this? And what does this mean for getting teens vaccinated by the school year?
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Dr. Fauci, would you like to take that? I don’t think he heard me.
So, let me — let me give an answer to that. It will be inferior to the answer Dr. Fauci would give me if he — if he heard me.
Yeah, they can’t hear.
DR. FAUCI: You’ve — you’ve muted.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: They finally muted me.
DR. FAUCI: Andy, you’re muted.
MODERATOR: I think we can hear you, Andy.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Can you hear me?
DR. FAUCI: Now we can hear you.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Okay. Dr. Fauci, did you hear the question? The question was: the significance of the Moderna press release that they will have 12- to 18-year-old apply — that they’ll have an application in next month.
DR. FAUCI: Yeah. Well, certainly, that’s one of the things we would like to have, because if you put the Pfizer together — which already will be able to vaccinate and are vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds — together with the recent data from Moderna, which likely would lead — as we enter into the beginning of the new fall term — that hopefully we’ll be able to get adolescent vaccine — I mean, high school students vaccinated actually before they enter the fall term, which is really very good news.
So, now we only — we have not only a single company, Pfizer, but it looks very much like we’ll have (inaudible) of another similar vaccine — an mRNA from Moderna. So, all good.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Great. Next question.
MODERATOR: Let’s go to Shannon Pettypiece at NBC.
Q Hello. Two questions. Hopefully neither two are going to take too much time. But, when will the first doses start being shipped overseas?
And also, on the booster: I know you don’t have an answer yet on whether or not we’ll need one, but could you give us a timeline on when you think we will know whether or not we will need one, and what the process looks like to coming to that decision about whether or not we’re going to need a booster?
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: So the President has committed that we will export 80 million doses before the end of June. We are currently awaiting FDA approval for the AstraZeneca doses. So, that’s the only thing in our way.
Dr. Fauci, do you want to take the second question?
DR. FAUCI: (Inaudible), Andy. So, with regard to the boosters, as I’ve said many times, we do not know precisely when we will need to boost. There are two ways to determine that: One, is from a laboratory correlative-immunity way, and the other is from the clinical observation.
The correlative immunity is when you look at the level below which you lose a considerable amount of protection. You can follow cohorts of individuals — like we are doing with people who are involved in the original phase 1, 2-A, 2-B trials — and determine from them when they go below that level. That could be several months; that could be a year or more. We don’t know the answer to that.
But what we are doing — just to preemptively get to the point where we’ll be able to do it — is that there are a number of studies now looking at what the effect of the booster dose would be: namely, how high would you bring it up? At what level will you start? What is the differential between where you start and where the boost brings you?
So the bottom line: I’d like to give you a specific time and say, “X number of months,” but, quite frankly, we don’t know the answer to that right now. But we’re continuing to look so that we will be able to give you a definitive answer.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Next question.
MODERATOR: We have time for (inaudible) question before 2 — Ricardo at the AP.
Q Hi, sorry about that — a little slow there with the mouse. Yeah, my question is for Dr. Fauci. And it’s an issue that’s been coming back up again. And I’m just curious to ask you, what is your latest thinking on the origins of the virus — whether it’s, as you like to say, “wild-type,” or if it’s something that could have escaped from a lab? I’m just curious what your latest thinking is on that.
DR. FAUCI: (Inaudible.) As I’ve said many time: Many of us feel that it is more likely that this is a natural occurrence, as has happened with SARS-CoV-1, where it goes from an animal reservoir to a human. But we don’t know 100 percent the answer to that.
And since this is a question that keeps being asked, we feel strongly — all of us — that we should continue with the investigation and go to the next phase of the investigation that the WHO has done.
So, because we don’t know 100 percent what the origin is, it’s imperative that we look and we do an investigation. And that’s how we feel right now.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Yeah, let me just close up by saying: It is our position that we need to get to the bottom of this, and we need a completely transparent process from China; we need the WHO to assist in that matter. We don’t feel like we have that now. We need to get to the bottom of this, whatever the answer may be, and that’s a critical priority for us.
So with that, I will thank you all for attending and hope you have a great rest of the day and rest of the week.
And we’ll be doing this on Friday. Thanks.
2:00 P.M. EDT
To view the COVID Press Briefing slides, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/COVID-Press-Briefing_25May2021_for-transcript.pdf