Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials
11:10 A.M. EDT
MR. ZIENTS: Good morning and thank you for joining us. Today I will begin with an update both on our domestic and global efforts to defeat COVID-19. We have here with us National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who will join me in speaking about our next steps in our global COVID-19 response. Then, Dr. Walensky will give an update on the state of the pandemic, and Dr. Fauci will discuss the latest science. We’ll leave some time for Q&A at the end.
On his first full day in office, President Biden released a comprehensive strategy to marshal a whole-of-government wartime effort to defeat the pandemic. We have spent each and every day of the last four and a half months executing against that strategy. And today I want to provide an update on the progress we are making: first, on our efforts to get Americans vaccinated as quickly, efficiently, and equitably as possible; and second, on our efforts to help combat the pandemic globally.
Here at home, we have built a best-in-class vaccination program. Already 63 percent of adult Americans have received at least one shot, and 52 percent of adult Americans are fully vaccinated. Already 12 states have 70 percent of adults with at least one shot. That’s an important milestone. And 28 states and the District of Columbia have fully vaccinated 50 percent or more of their adult population. As a result, in communities and states across the country, the pandemic is in retreat.
Since the President took office on January 20th, cases are down over 90 percent and deaths are down over 85 percent. Our successful vaccination program isn’t just saving tens of thousands of lives. It’s letting tens of millions of Americans get back to living their lives.
It’s fair to say that we’re far ahead of where anyone thought we would be in our fight against the virus. And, importantly, we have secured enough vaccine supply for all Americans. This is a direct result to the President taking aggressive action, including through the use of the Defense Production Act, the DPA, to mobilize the full force of U.S. vaccine manufacturing and production.
Because of those actions and the success of U.S. vaccine manufacturers, we are confident in our supply of our authorized vaccines. As a result, we’re removing the DPA priority ratings for AstraZeneca, Novavax, and Sanofi. While the manufacturers will continue to make these three vaccines, this action will allow U.S.-based companies that supply these vaccine manufacturers to make their own decisions on which orders to fulfill first.
For all the progress we’ve made as a country, as the President reiterated yesterday afternoon, we have millions of Americans still in need of protection and communities at risk because of low vaccination rates.
Here’s the bottom line: The bottom line is that if you are unvaccinated, you are still at risk of getting seriously ill or spreading the disease to others.
To help get as many people vaccinated as we can by July 4th, we’re kicking off a month of action, mobilizing an all-of- America effort, including new commitments from childcare providers across the country to provide free drop-in childcare to allow parents to get vaccinated; extended hours of local pharmacies for vaccinations, including many pharmacies that will be open 24 hours every Friday starting next week; commitments from states in the private sector to incentivize vaccinations and celebrate our progress, including free beer for everyone over the age of 21, on July 4th, courtesy of Anheuser-Busch.
And the Vice President is leading a “We Can Do This” national vaccination tour. This national vaccination tour to key communities across the country will help reach millions of Americans who still need protection against the virus, highlight the ease of getting vaccinated, encourage vaccination, and energize and mobilize grassroots vaccine education and outreach efforts.
As the days get brighter and brighter at home, we’re focused on driving progress to help the pandemic — help end the pandemic around the globe. It’s both the right thing to do and an important step in protecting Americans by helping to stamp out the virus.
The President has committed that the U.S. will be an arsenal for vaccines, and our work on vaccine supply is guided by a three-part approach:
First, having successfully secured enough supply of vaccine for Americans, we are donating surplus U.S. vaccine supply and encouraging other countries with surplus supplies to do the same. In March, the U.S. shared over 4 million doses of our AstraZeneca vaccine supply with Canada and Mexico. And the President has announced a U.S. commitment to sharing a total of 80 million doses by the end of June. This is five times the number of doses any other country has committed to sharing. And these 80 million doses represent 13 percent of the total vaccines produced by the United States by the end of this month.
We will continue to donate additional doses across the summer months as supply becomes available. But at the same time, we know that won’t be sufficient. So the second part of our approach is working with U.S. vaccine manufacturers to vastly increase vaccine supply for the rest of the world in a way that also creates jobs here at home. Driven by the aggressive actions that have been taken to accelerate manufacturing and production lines in the U.S., Pfizer and Moderna have already increased their capacity to produce vaccines for the world.
The third part of our approach will have us work with our partner nations and pharmaceutical companies and other manufacturers to facilitate the kind of global vaccine manufacturing and production capacity and capabilities that can not only help the world beat this pandemic, but also prepares the world to respond to potential future threats.
Today we’re outlining our framework for sharing with the world the first 25 million doses. To be clear, our approach is to ensure vaccines are delivered in a way that is equitable and follows the latest science and public health data.
Across the coming weeks, the administration will move as expeditiously as possible and work through regulatory requirements and logistical details to ensure safe and secure delivery of doses.
This is certainly a complex operational challenge but one that we take on and will get done. In fact, less than two weeks ago, the President committed to providing one million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the Republic of Korea.
After making a 2,000-mile journey to California, these one million doses are being loaded into a plane that will take off to the Republic of Korea this evening, carrying hope and bringing life-saving protection to the one million South Koreans who have already signed up to get a shot.
This is just the beginning. We expect a regular cadence of shipments around the world across the next several weeks. And in the weeks ahead, working with the world’s democracies, we will coordinate a multilateral effort, including through the G7, to combat and end the pandemic.
Now, let me turn it over to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
MR. SULLIVAN: Thanks, Jeff. As Jeff said, today we are announcing our plan for sharing the first 25 million U.S. vaccines with the world. I’m going to briefly outline why we are sharing them, how we plan to share them, and where we will share them.
First, our goal in sharing our vaccines is in service of ending the pandemic globally. Our overarching aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible. It’s as simple as that. We want to save lives and thwart variants that place all of us at risk. But perhaps most important: This is just the right thing to do.
Thanks to the ingenuity of American scientists and the resilience and commitment of the American people, we’re in a position to help others, so we will help others. And as the President has said, the United States will not use its vaccines to secure favors from other countries.
Next, I want to say a little bit about how we are sharing. We’ve received requests from all over the world, and a number of important factors went into our decision about how to allocate these first 25 million vaccines. These factors included achieving global coverage, responding to surges and other specific urgent situations and public health needs, and helping as many countries as possible who requested vaccines.
We’ve also decided to prioritize helping our neighbors. We made the decision to share at least 75 percent of these vaccines through COVAX. This will maximize the number of vaccines available equitably for all countries and will facilitate sharing with those most at risk. And we decided to share up to 25 percent of these vaccines for immediate needs and to help with surges around the world. We can share these 25 percent in a flexible way.
Finally, I want to talk a little bit about where we are sharing these first 25 million doses. We’re sharing them in a wide range of countries within Latin America and the Caribbean; South and Southeast Asia; and across Africa, in coordination with the African Union.
This includes prioritizing our neighbors here in our hemisphere, including countries like Guatemala and Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, and many others. It respects existing regional networks for vaccine sharing, like the platform of the African Union and African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and the regional public health agency in the Caribbean — CARPHA.
These networks will help decide where to allocate needed doses in regions with low vaccination rates and to those most at risk, including healthcare workers who haven’t yet gotten their shots.
Our approach also prioritizes South and Southeast Asia, including countries like India, Nepal, the Philippines, and others that are undergoing surges right now. It recognizes our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, which received our first shared vaccines; and friends like the Republic of Korea, where our military shares a command. And it prioritizes other partners around the world, including countries with low vaccination rates or dealing with urgent present crises, like the West Bank and Gaza, Ukraine, Kosovo, Iraq, Haiti, and others.
In the days ahead, we will coordinate closely with COVAX and with countries that will receive our vaccines. And as Jeff has said, this is only the beginning.
The President has committed to sharing doses on an ongoing basis, starting with 80 million by the end of June. We will continue to donate from our excess supply as that supply is delivered to us. We will work with our international partners to get ahead of the virus, to follow the science, and to help countries in crisis.
We also know that this won’t be enough to end or reduce the lifespan of the pandemic, and that’s why we’re working with allies and partners to expand the production of vaccines and raw materials, including here at home, as Jeff described, and by building capacity around the world.
We’re also working with our G7 partners on a larger effort to help end the pandemic so that the world’s democracies deliver for people everywhere. And we will have more to say about this next week when the G7 leaders meet in the UK.
We will continue to build on our existing health and health security efforts focused on stopping the spread of COVID-19: increasing vaccination, detecting outbreaks and variants, responding rapidly to flares, and critically recovering economically here at home and around the world. And we will do so in a way that strengthens our global public health institutions and our ability to come together as an international community to defeat not just this pandemic, but the next one and the one after that.
As President Biden said in May, this is a unique moment in history, and it requires American leadership, American science and ingenuity, American perseverance, and the world’s democracies to step up to the plate. Today, I’m proud to say that that effort is underway. Thanks.
MR. ZIENTS: Okay. Now over to Dr. Walensky. Dr. Walensky?
DR. WALENSKY: Good morning. It’s great to be back with you today. As always, let’s begin with an overview of the data.
Yesterday, CDC reported a little over 9,300 new cases of COVID-19. Our seven-day average is about 15,600 cases per day. This represents a decrease of more than 30 percent from our prior seven-day average. And, more importantly, it is a 94 percent decrease from the peak of COVID-19 cases we reported in January of this year.
This is the type of news I like to deliver and, certainly, these data are encouraging and uplifting as we battle this pandemic.
In other good news, the seven-day average of new hospital admissions is about 2,750. That is a decrease of 83 percent in hospitalizations since January 9th of this year when we peaked at a seven-day average of almost 16,500 daily hospital admissions.
We can all agree these trends are going in the right direction.
And, finally, the seven-day average of daily deaths has also declined to a new low of 363 per day — a decrease of more than 16 percent from the last week.
As the administration kicks off its national month of action in the critical month of June, I want to highlight a specific population that we were hoping will join the tens of millions who have already been vaccinated, and that is adolescents.
In the month leading up to the recommendations of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines for teens and adolescents 12 and older, CDC observed troubling data regarding the hospitalizations of adolescents with COVID-19. More concerning were the number of adolescents admitted to the hospital who required treatment in the intensive care unit with mechanical ventilation.
Tomorrow, we will publish a report on this topic with more details in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. And it is these findings within this publication — one that demonstrates the level of severe disease, even among youth, that are preventable, that force us to redouble our motivation to get our adolescents and young adults vaccinated.
Last month, FDA authorized and CDC recommended a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 that can be used in adolescents to prevent disease and hospitalization. I strongly encourage parents to get their teens vaccinated, as I did mine.
If parents have questions or concerns, please talk with your child’s healthcare provider, your local department of public health, or your local pharmacist. And, of course, until teens are fully vaccinated, they should continue to wear masks and take precautions when around others who are not vaccinated, to protect themselves, their friends, family, and community.
With that, thank you, and I’ll turn things over to Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. I’d like to spend just a minute or so just updating you in the arena of selected COVID-19 therapeutics. I don’t know if you can see the slide, but the first slide that said “Selected Therapeutics” is broken up into three major components — just to remind you that the work that has been done over the last many months to a year has been three separate approaches: one, to target the virus itself — and, as you could see, the number of interventions listed there. The other is to moderate an aberrant inflammatory response, moderating the host. And the other adjunctive therapies, such as anticoagulants.
If we can move to the next slide, which has the red circle around the third bullet, that’s what I want to bring to the attention of the audience, and that is monoclonal antibodies, two of which — the Regeneron combination and Eli Lilly combination — have already been approved for EUA.
I’ve highlighted in blue another additional antibody made by GSK and Vir. And if you go to the next slide, six days ago, in a preprint server, some very interesting and exciting data has been published. And that is: A randomized placebo-controlled phase three trial of non-hospitalized patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk for the progression of their disease — close to 600 people — a single 500 milligram dose of the monoclonal antibody, sotrovimab — again, by GSK and Vir — reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 85 percent, compared with the placebo.
It is well-tolerated and there are no safety signals identified. And, importantly, in the test tube, this antibody retains activity against multiple variants. So, what we really have now are three options within the arena of monoclonal antibodies — something that’s important for physicians to know that there is an important option for treating people early to prevent them from going to the hospital.
This has been granted an EUA, so it’s available for use, and we encourage physicians to at least consider this possibility as part of your therapeutic armamentarium. I’ll stop there, and back to you, Jeff.
MR. ZIENTS: Wonderful. Thank you, Dr. Fauci. Why don’t we now open it up for a few questions?
MODERATOR: Thanks, everybody. And we’re running very short on time, so we’ll just take a couple of questions. Please keep to one question and on topic.
First, Josh Wingrove of Bloomberg.
Q Hi there. Thank you for doing this. Can you say —
MR. ZIENTS: (Inaudible) take questions.
Q Can you hear me?
MODERATOR: I can hear you, Josh.
Q Great. Jeff, can you speak a little bit to which specific vaccines will be sent in the 25 million? I assume it’s safe to say that the AstraZeneca doses remain under review.
MR. ZIENTS: Okay, I think we’re working on some technical issues, and hopefully we are able to open it up for questions soon.
Q Jeff, let me know if you can hear me, please.
MR. ZIENTS: Yes.
Q Great. Great. I was just wondering if you can say which vaccines in particular will be sent among the 25 million? I assume that the AstraZeneca doses remain under review and are not available. Have you decided, or sorted, which will be the 25 million?
MR. ZIENTS: Good question, and thank you for the question. That is correct. The AstraZeneca doses — the 60 million AstraZeneca doses — are awaiting FDA concurrence. So, the 25 million will be comprised of the three approved — EUA-approved authorized vaccines — some combination of Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Moderna.
MODERATOR: Kaitlan Collins, CNN.
Q Thanks so much, Jeff. (Inaudible) as part of this partnership with COVAX, my question is: Does the U.S. still have a final say where the doses (inaudible) COVAX go? Or is it COVAX making that decision?
And then, just to follow: When will these 25 million be distributed? And are you still confident the remaining 55 will be out by the end of June?
MR. ZIENTS: Okay. So, Jake, why don’t I hand it to you on the first COVAX question?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, whether the U.S. still has final say on where the vaccines go, Jeff? Is that — was that the question?
MR. ZIENTS: Yes. The question on COVAX — do you want to handle that? And then, I’ll handle the second piece.
MR. SULLIVAN: We may be having some audio issues here. But as I understand it, the question was whether the United States still has the final say as to where the doses go that are being shared through COVAX. And the answer is that the U.S., working with COVAX, has taken —
MR. ZIENTS: I’m not hearing Jake.
MR. SULLIVAN — COVAX has a list of countries — the doses that are allocated to each of those countries, and we, the United States, have made selections against that list in coordination with them so that we will retain the say in terms of where they go.
Now, in the case of the African Union — we are sharing with the African Union, who will ultimately make — be making the determinations about how to allocate within Africa. And in the case of the Caribbean, we’ll be working closely with CARPHA, the public health authority in the Caribbean, who will be making some of the key determinations for where the doses are allocated.
But ultimately, the United States will have the authority to say, “The doses are going here, as opposed to there.” But that will be done in very close consultation and partnership with COVAX and, crucially, according to COVAX’s formula, and then using the COVAX logistics capacity and delivery capacity to ensure that these doses actually translate into shots in arms that helps save people’s lives.
MR. ZIENTS: So, on the second part of the question. We are already sharing (inaudible) — (audio technical difficulties) — with Korea. As I mentioned earlier, those doses are in flight now. We’ve announced plans to share about 13 percent of the vaccines produced for the U.S. by the end of June. That’s the most of any nation, and that’s the 80 million. So, over the coming weeks, we’ll work to get those doses to countries and get shots in arms as soon as possible.
As we do so, we’ll work through logistics, like medical agencies, coordinating to ensure safety and regulatory information to share supply teams to ensure that we have the necessary needles, syringes, and alcohol pads; transportation teams to ensure proper temperature storage, prevent breakage, and ensure the vaccine immediately clears customs. So the process to export the first 25 million is underway in coordination with foreign governments.
And the President has committed, as we talked about earlier, to sharing 80 million doses by the end of June, and we will deliver on the President’s commitment of 80 million doses by the end of June.
MODERATOR: All right. Last question. And sorry for the technical challenges. Sheryl at New York Times.
Q Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I wonder if you could be a little bit more specific about the 25 percent of the doses that you are reserving for, you know, immediate use — the flexible doses. Where are those doses going?
MR. ZIENTS: Over to Jake.
MR. SULLIVAN: Technical difficulties persist. But the answer to the question of where the 25 percent of doses are going is: We will lay out, more specifically, the precise destination of those. The judgment we make about where those go is a combination of where there are specific urgent situations where partner countries are facing crises. And so, some examples of that include — a portion of those doses will go to India, which has, obviously, dealt with a surge, and we’ve seen the gripping images coming from that country. Some of them will go to the West Bank and Gaza, which has just, obviously, endured its own form of crisis over the course of the past month. And then there will be other destinations for the remaining doses, and we will lay that all out as those doses are prepared and then shipped.
MR. ZIENTS: Next question.
MODERATOR: We’ll do one more question. To Zeke, at AP.
Q Thank you all for (inaudible). Can you say where the doses are coming from? Are they coming from states’ inventory or the pool of federal supply right now (inaudible) manufacturers?
And then, for Jake: Can you explain how this is consistent with the President’s guidance that there would be “no strings attached” to these vaccines, that the U.S. is still maintaining ultimate say-so about where these doses go and reserving all of these (inaudible) bilateral, such as giving to allied troops rather than (inaudible). Why not just give it all to COVAX to be shared where it’s needed immediately?
MR. ZIENTS: So, on the first question, the doses — the 25 million doses — are coming from the federal pool of supply. The doses that are at the states’ level, those states have ordered those doses and we’re working with those states to administer shots in arms so that the millions of Americans who are not getting vaccinated can get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Jake, over to you.
MR. SULLIVAN: Sure. So, first and critically, the United States is not asking anything of any country to whom we’re giving doses. We’re not seeking to extract concessions. We’re not extorting. We’re not imposing conditions, the way that other countries who are providing doses are doing. We are doing none of those things. These are doses that are being given — donated free and clear — to these countries for the sole purpose of improving the public health situation and helping end the pandemic.
The Korea situation is unique. As the President said when President Moon visited, the animating purpose behind that is actually about the protection of American forces and the forces who serve alongside American forces: the Korean troops who are standing shoulder to shoulder with us in that country.
So it is a unique case and the kind of unique case for which we want to retain some flexibility, which is why we’re giving the majority — the 75 percent or more — of our doses through COVAX, but maintaining the capacity to allocate doses outside the COVAX formula as necessary. Korea is one case of that.
The West Bank and Gaza, as I mentioned, is another case where we’re not asking anything of the people of Gaza or the West Bank, but we feel that given what they are dealing with and the situation on the ground there, it is only right and proper and good for the United States to actually allocate some doses to that country. The same is true with some of the other allocations that we will make.
The President made a commitment to ensure that India received doses and giving them, not just an allocation under the regional portion of this, through COVAX, but an additional allocation from our discretionary portion was something that he wanted to do.
Again, the basic bottom line on this is that the United States is not doing this as some kind of back-and-forth deal, where we’re getting something for what we’re giving. We are giving these for a single purpose; it is the purpose of ending this pandemic. And we are doing so in a way consistent — we believe very strongly — with the public health requirements that will help hasten the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
MR. ZIENTS: Why don’t we have time for one more question.
MODERATOR: All right, we’ll keep going. Let’s just go to Weijia from CBS.
Q Thank you so much. My question is actually for Dr. Walensky. As you watch this big push for vaccinations ahead of July 4th — and this morning on CBS you listed several reasons for why people may not be getting vaccinated yet — I’m wondering if you are making educated guesses or if you have any data and figures to show why some people are still holding out, especially in the South, where rates are relatively low.
DR. FAUCI: Jeff, I think that Rochelle got kicked out by her computer. (Laughter.)
MR. ZIENTS: Well, you know, I think the important thing is that all Americans have the opportunity to get vaccinated, and that means we need to make it even easier to get vaccinated; that we do answer people’s questions — people who have questions about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. And as we know, the vaccines — all three — are very effective and very safe, but we need to answer those questions.
The good news is confidence in the vaccines has grown across time, as people have neighbors and friends and faith leaders and doctors who have been vaccinated and advise them on their own decision. And the important thing here is that the most trusted messengers are local messengers, including doctors and faith leaders.
So we need to bring the vaccines to where people are and answer the questions that people have. And we are confident that more and more people will get vaccinated, leading up to the Fourth of July.
Should we try to do one more question, Kevin?
MODERATOR: I think we got to wrap up. But thank you, Jeff.
11:43 A.M. EDT
To view the COVID Press Briefing slides, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/COVID-Press-Briefing_3June2021_for-transcript.pdf