Via Teleconference 

11:11 A.M. EDT

MR. ZIENTS:  Good morning, and thank you for joining us.  Today, Dr. Fauci will discuss the latest science, including an important announcement on next-generation treatments in our long-term fight against COVID-19.

Dr. Walensky will give an update on the state of the pandemic, Dr. Murthy will discuss our public education and outreach efforts, and then we’ll have time for Q&A.

We are making significant progress in our fight against COVID-19 in the U.S. and around the world.  Let’s remember where the country was before President Biden took office.

In mid-January, the United States had more than 185,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, and more than 3,300 Americans were dying each day from the virus.  Kids were out of school, people were out of work, and businesses were closed.

The President committed to marshalling a whole-of Government wartime response to meet this historic challenge.  That’s exactly what he has done by building an unparalleled vaccination program.

The results are clear: More than 175 million Americans have already gotten at least one shot, including 87 percent of seniors, those 65 and over; 74 percent of adults 40 and over; and nearly 2 out of 3 of all adult Americans.

In 14 states and the District of Columbia, at least 70 percent of adults have received at least one shot. And just this morning, we learned that 86 percent of K-through-12 educators and school staff had already been vaccinated by the end of May.

What does this all mean?  As a result of our success vaccinating Americans, cases and deaths are down more than 90 percent since the President took office on January 20th.
In fact, cases and deaths are at the lowest levels since the start of the pandemic.  Instead of heading into a summer, like last summer — of isolation, uncertainty, and loss — we’re headed into a summer of joy, celebration, and increasing freedom from the virus.

However, for all the progress we’re making as a country, too many communities remain at risk because of low vaccination levels.  In fact, we’re seeing the communities with the highest vaccination rates have lower rates of new cases and hospitalizations, and communities with the lowest vaccination rates have higher new cases and hospitalizations.

As the President says, we do not want our country, that is already too divided, become divided in a new way — between places where people live free from fear of COVID-19 and places that remain at risk.

The low vaccination rates in some communities is an even bigger concern now that we face the threat of a new, more dangerous variant, including specifically the Delta variant.

The good news is that the best way to protect yourself against these variants, including the Delta variant, is to get fully vaccinated.  So, if you’re fully vaccinated, you’re protected.  But if you’re unvaccinated, you’re at risk of getting seriously ill or spreading the disease to others.  This is why we are pushing so hard to get more Americans vaccinated.

During our National Month of Action, we’re mobilizing an all-of-America effort, including the “We Can Do This” National Vaccination Tour, led by the Vice President, to key communities across the country to reach millions of Americans who still need protection against the virus, and to energize and mobilize grassroots vaccine education and outreach efforts.

Vice President Harris kicked off the tour on Monday in Greenville, South Carolina, followed by EPA Administrator Regan returning to his home state, visiting Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina.  Yesterday, the Second Gentleman in Memphis, Tennessee.  Today, VA Secretary McDonough in Birmingham, Alabama.  And to cap off the first week, the Vice President will be in Atlanta, Georgia, tomorrow.

As the outlook on the virus gets brighter and brighter by the day here at home, we’re increasingly focused on driving progress to help end the pandemic around the globe.  Last week, the President took a historic step by announcing that the United States will purchase a half billion doses of Pfizer vaccines and donate them to nearly 100 low-income countries around the world.  This is by far and away the largest-ever donation of COVID-19 vaccines by a single country.

And these half billion doses are on top of the 80 million doses the President committed to sharing with the world by the end of June, and the $2 billion the U.S. has donated to COVAX to support its efforts to vaccinate the world.

We’ve already started shipping doses.  On Tuesday, doses landed in Mexico, and today, doses land in Canada.  And we’ll allocate all the initial 80 million doses in the coming days with shipments going out as soon as countries are ready to receive the doses.

So, in total, we’ve have already committed to sharing 580 million doses.  And we expect to do more and more over the summer months as we help lead the fight to end the pandemic across the globe.

Now I want to turn to Dr. Fauci for an important announcement on how we are mobilizing our whole-of-government effort to develop next-generation treatments to prevent severe COVID-19 illness or death.

This pioneering work of American ingenuity and innovation is essential to our long-term response to the pandemic, and is funded by the American Rescue Plan.

With that, over to Dr. Fauci.

DR. FAUCI:  Thank you very much, Jeff.  Can I have that first slide?  So, today, the Biden administration announced their investment of $3.2 billion from the American Rescue Plan as part of the COVID-19 Antiviral Development Strategy.  It’s a whole-of-government effort aimed at developing the next generation of COVID-19 treatments, as well as preparing us for future threats. 

Next slide. 

The program is called the Antiviral Program for Pandemics, and it aims to catalyze the development of new medicines to combat COVID-19 and, importantly, to prepare for other pandemic threats.  And what do I mean by that latter statement?

Next slide. 

There are few treatments that exist for many of the viruses that have what we call “pandemic potential.”  I’m showing on this slide family of viruses that do, in fact, have potential to evolve into a pandemic, such as the paramyxovirus with Nipah; the bunyaviruses with hemorrhagic fevers; we’re very familiar with the coronavirus — what we’re dealing with right now. 

Next slide. 

So what is the rationale and the goals for this program?  Of course, as we’ve heard so often now over the last several briefings, vaccines clearly remain the centerpiece of our arsenal against COVID-19.  However, antivirals can and are an important complement to existing vaccines, especially for individuals with certain conditions that might put them at a greater risk.  For those who vaccines may not be as protective, we know that there are many people who are immunosuppressed, in which vaccines, at least initially, may not give an optimum response. 

And it also adds a line of defense against other unexpected emerging things, like variants of concern that we are currently dealing with, including the variants that we’ll be discussing a little bit later. 

This program is going to bring together leading scientists from academia, as well as industry, to accelerate the development of new antivirals.  And as I mentioned, it’s also going to target other viruses of pandemic potential.

Can I have the next slide? 

It has two major pillars to the program: development and discovery.  The development is the more immediate activity; in other words, it’s going to accelerate the clinical testing of promising antiviral medicines that are already in various stages of development, including clinical trial, things like the Pfizer protease inhibitor; the Atea-Roche RNA polymerase inhibitor; the Merck mutagenic nucleoside, Molnupiravir; and others that are in that pipeline.  So it’s to be accelerating things that are already in process. 

The other pillar is “discovery.”  And this is very important because this is modeled after the highly successful program developed decades ago for the targeted development of antiretroviral drugs for HIV, which has led to transforming therapies to control HIV, namely discovering new antiviral medications. 

Next slide.

The program looks like this: It’s a total, as I mentioned, of $3.2 billion.  There’ll be $500 million for fundamental research and laboratory support; a billion for preclinical and clinical evaluation; $700 million for the development and manufacturing through NIH, in our usual partnership with BARDA; and $1 billion to support the creation of a program which we are calling the Antiviral Drug Discovery Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern, meaning not only COVID-19, but some of the families I showed you on a prior slide. 

And on the last slide: What are the next steps?  We’re going to continue engaging with manufacturers in the development part of it to accelerate the testing and authorization of promising meds, which are in later-stage development. 

In this regard, we’re going to continue to identify and evaluate additional candidates for this program support.  With regard to discovery, we’re going to support academic industry partnerships aimed at discovering new molecules. 

So we have a great deal of optimism that this program will ultimately be as successful as the highly successful program that we had implemented both for HIV and for hepatitis C. 

With that, I’ll hand it over to Dr. Walensky.

DR. WALENSKY:  Thank you, Dr. Fauci.  And good morning, everyone.  Let’s begin with an overview of the data.  Yesterday, CDC reported 12,322 new cases of COVID-19.  Our seven-day average is 12,190 cases per day.  This represents a decrease of about 16 percent from the prior seven-day average and is the lowest seven-day average since March 27, 2020. 

To put this in context: On January 10, 2021, the seven-day average was 252,000 cases per day.  We’ve seen a 95 percent decline in just the past five months.  The seven-day average of hospitalizations is about 2,000 per day, a decrease of about 10 percent from the prior seven-day period.  And the seven-day average of daily deaths has also declined to 286 per day, the first time that average daily deaths have been below 300 since March 27, 2020. 

These numbers make it clear: Getting vaccinated gets us back to normal.  It’s the best way we have to defeat this virus and to get everyone back to gathering together safely at weddings, sports events, and travel. 

Everyone in the United States ages 12 and older is eligible to get vaccinated.  It’s never been easier or more convenient.  Vaccines are free and available at a location near you.  Remember, visit VaccineFinder.gov to find a site near you.  We know that vaccination prevents the vast majority of serious COVID-19 illness, hospitalizations, and deaths. 

As far as we have come in our vaccination efforts, with over half of those who are eligible being fully vaccinated, and many cities and states reaching our goal of over 70 percent of people with at least one dose, it’s understandable that some people still have questions.  What’s the science behind the vaccines?  How were they developed so quickly?  How do we know they are safe, especially for adolescents and teens?

Answering those questions remains a critical part of our efforts, especially when it comes to safety.  I’m the mother of three myself; I understand that parents want to make sure their children are safe.  We don’t want our children to be sick from anything, particularly a preventable illness. 

The COVID-19 vaccine saves lives.  COVID-19 has resulted in more than 320 deaths in children under age 18 in the United States during this pandemic.  And hospitalization rates among adolescents who got COVID-19 were two and a half to three times higher than they are during a typical influenza season. 

In addition to preventing hospitalizations, the vaccine also reduces the risk of COVID-19 and therefore reduces the risk of MISC, a serious condition of multisystem inflammation in children, which has affected over 4,000 children in the United States during the pandemic, including 36 children whose deaths were associated with MISC. 

My own children received the COVID-19 vaccine because vaccination is the best way to protect our adolescents, teens, and young adults from COVID-19 and its complications.

Tomorrow, CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, will meet to review data on reports of myocarditis and pericarditis, or inflammation of the heart and surrounding tissue.

These cases are rare, and the vast majority have fully resolved with rest and supportive care.  CDC will present details about more than 300 confirmed cases of myocarditis and pericarditis reported to CDC and FDA among the over 20 million adolescents and young adults vaccinated in the United States.

Over the last several months, we have been asking clinicians to be on the look-out for and report patients with symptoms of myocarditis or pericarditis following vaccination.

CDC has been collecting these reports, including obtaining detailed medical records to confirm the diagnosis and reviewing them to ensure, in real time, the safety of our vaccines.

Our team has also been in regular contact with the American Academy of Pediatrics, who share CDC’s recommendation for all teens to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Tomorrow, in a meeting open to the public, the ACIP will hear a risk-benefit analysis regarding COVID-19 vaccination versus the potential rare side effects across all age groups.

I look forward to hearing this important discussion, which is yet another demonstration of our ongoing efforts to keep safety central to everything we do. 

Getting vaccinated is our way out of this pandemic.  If you have questions about vaccination, please contact your health care provider, your state or local health department, or your local pharmacist. 

Thank you.  I’ll now turn things over to Dr. Murthy. 

DR. MURTHY:  Well, thank you so much, Dr. Walensky.  And it’s good to be with all of you again today. 

Our COVID 19 vaccine public education efforts have continued in earnest and, in fact, with even greater urgency given the spread of the Delta variant, which is significantly more transmissible, may be more dangerous than prior variants, and which serves as a stark reminder that if you are vaccinated, you are protected; if you are not, the threat of variants is real and growing. 

In the last two weeks alone, our door-knocking and phone-banking efforts have generated hundreds of thousands of conversations in all 50 states. 

Our mayor’s challenge has mobilized mayors in cities and towns across America to push toward our 70 percent goal, often in friendly competition with each other. 

And we focused our broader efforts on three key groups in particular: parents, youth, and clinicians.  We’ve held town halls and press calls with parents, and publications and blogs focused on parenting.  We’ve reached out directly to young people by launching our Student Community Corps yesterday by hosting town halls with organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of America, and by working with young influencers on YouTube and other social media platforms. 

Recognizing how essential doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are as trusted messengers, we’ve also built partnerships with medical organizations and health systems across the country who have committed to reaching out to patients and their staff.  And we’ve also reached out directly to clinicians, including through a town hall last week with more than 1,500 pediatricians, and a national clinician town hall with more than 1,000 participants. 

We’ve talked before about how clinicians are the number one source of trusted information about the vaccines.  Today, I also want to talk about something we don’t discuss as often, which is the mental health and wellbeing of our clinicians. 

Recent data indicates more than 50 percent of clinicians are experiencing burnout during this pandemic.  But even before COVID, more than one third of nurses and doctors experienced substantial symptoms of burnout, with doctors experiencing a suicide rate double that of the general population.  COVID-19 made this much worse, as clinicians have been forced to push through new levels of fatigue. 

Among the many stories that I have heard from clinicians, one that sticks out is an account from a nurse practitioner who said he stopped counting how many patients he’d lost after his 146th patient died from COVID-19. 

Clinicians have gone through trauma of their own during this pandemic.  And if burnout isn’t addressed, it won’t just hurt our health care workers, but it will hurt our ability to provide routine care that people need every day. 

Now, the administration is responding to clinician burnout.  The Health Resources and Services Administration has secured $120 million in funding through the American Rescue Plan.  This funding will support an expansion of training and wellness programs to reduce burnout and to promote resiliency. 

In addition, the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has received $20 million for an education and awareness campaign to improve the wellbeing of the nation’s healthcare workforce.

My office will continue to focus on clinician wellbeing in the coming months.  It’s why we started the dialogue with healthcare organizations and with the National Academy of Medicine’s Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being and Resilience, which is a network of more than 200 organizations committed to addressing clinician burnout and improving clinician wellbeing. 

Our nation owes our healthcare workers a debt of gratitude, but also a debt of action.  They’ve had our back during this pandemic, and now we will continue to strive to care for the people who care for all of us. 

Thank you so much.  And I’ll pass it back to you, Jeff. 

MR. ZIENTS:  Thank you, Dr. Murthy.  Let’s open it up for a few questions. 

MODERATOR:  Thanks, Jeff.  First question, we will go to Tamara Keith at NPR. 

Q    Thank you very much.  The question I have is about boosters.  I know you’ve been asked about this many times before, but the question is whether you have a plan to buy vaccines to be used as boosters, or whether you already have enough purchased.  And what specifically is the plan to determine if boosters will be needed?  How much of this is relying on the pharmaceutical companies?  And how much of it is, you know, CDC process?  Or how is that going to work?

MR. ZIENTS:  Why don’t we first go to your question on the plan for whether we need and when we would need boosters, if we do need them. 

Dr. Fauci?

DR. FAUCI:  Jeff.  Well, whether or not one needs it is going to depend on two things.  It’s going to depend on the durability of the protection.  And I want to emphasize, by “durability,” I don’t mean that the vaccines now are not affective.  We’re talking about the length of the protection, which we know is very high right now.  That can be determined either by looking at the correlates of immunity and making sure that an individual — a cohort of individual, who are in — who are vaccinated, that that level of a correlate does not go below a critical baseline. 

Also, you might see — and we hope we don’t get to that point; we’ll know about it before — that there are more breakthrough infections. 

So, right now, what we are doing is that we are doing clinical trials with boosters — boosters against wild type and boosters against what we call “variant-specific” boosts.  And the determination is not made by drug companies; the determination is made by the public health need of individuals who’ve been vaccinated, whether or not we’re going to have a durable immunity.

With regard to projections, we don’t know what that is.  That could be a year.  That could be 18 months.  That could be much longer.  We’re going to have to follow it.  And we will act according to the information that we get from the parameters that I just mentioned. 

MR. ZIENTS:  So, the approach on supply is going to be the same approach that we have followed since day one, which is to be prepared for any contingency or any scenario.  So, we will have ample supply if indeed boosters are needed down the road. 

DR. WALENSKY:  And maybe I’ll just chime in and say: Among the topics on tomorrow’s ACIP meeting will be a discussion about vaccine effectiveness and when boosters might be needed and how we will use science to inform that.

MR. ZIENTS:  Wonderful.  Next question. 

MODERATOR:  Let’s go to Shefali Luthra at The 19th. 

Q    Hi, thanks for taking my question.  I wanted to hear a bit more about how we’re thinking about the treatments being developed for COVID and other coronaviruses, and in particular, what pricing might look like, given what a big discussion we’re all having right now about high drug prices. 

MR. ZIENTS:  Dr. Fauci?

DR. FAUCI:  You know, well, I’m not really sure I can address pricing right now.  We don’t have the drugs that we’re talking about.  As I mentioned, there’s both development and discovery.  And right now, obviously, you’d want a price that would be affordable for people who would need it.  But I don’t think I’m in a position right now, at this point in the plan, to talk about the pricing of the products that will come out of that. 

MR. ZIENTS:  Was there a first part of the question?

Okay, let’s go to the next question. 

MODERATOR:  Let’s go to Sheryl Stolberg at the New York Times. 

Q    Hi, thank you for taking my question; it has to do with vaccination rates.  Right now, for people receiving the first dose, the seven-day average is about 200,000.  And that is down from roughly 500,000 at the outset of the month when the President announced his month of action. 

So, I am wondering, do you expect that we will meet the 70 percent threshold that the President has set out for July 4th?

MR. ZIENTS:  Well, I’ll start by saying: Getting vaccinated is as important as it’s ever been.  Those who are vaccinated are protected.  Those who are not, are not protected.  And the Delta variant just reminds us all that we need to not only get the first dose, but, for those who only have one dose and they’re on a two-dose regimen, to complete their vaccination as soon as possible. 

We’ve made tremendous progress.  Today, more than 175 million Americans have gotten at least one shot: as I said, 87 percent of seniors, 74 percent of people over the age of 40.  And we’re now nearly 2 in 3 adult Americans — hundreds of thousands of people — are continuing to get their first shot each day. 

And we are going to get to 70 percent.  And we’re going to continue across the summer months to push beyond 70 percent.  For the reasons that I just talked about, you have to get vaccinated in order to be protected against COVID-19, the Delta variant, and any other variants that might come down the road. 

Next question. 

MODERATOR:  Let’s go to Raquel at TV Globo Brazil. 

Q    Thank you so much.  Can you hear me?

MR. ZIENTS:  Yes. 

Q    Thank you so much, Kevin.

About the 80 million doses of COVID that will be shared with the other countries by the end of the month: Only 25 million were announced; still, 55 million need to be announced and sent by the end of the month. 

Two questions: Will the administration be able to achieve this goal?  And when can we expect an announcement for the next 55 million?  Are they going to be distributed the same way as 25 million?  How and when are they being allocated?  And also, I’m curious to know about — is it going to be shared the same way to Brazil?  We know that Brazil is still like — the numbers are still very high; 2,000 people dying every day.  So, I wonder what amount Brazil would be receiving.  Thank you so much. 

MR. ZIENTS:  So, we will be allocating those — the full 80 million — so, the remaining 55 million, given that 25 million has already been allocated — in the coming days, with shipments going out as soon as countries are ready to receive the doses. 

There are complex logistics here — coordinating with medical agencies in the host countries, regulatory bodies.  Obviously, we want to make sure that when the doses arrive, that the ancillary supplies are in place — the needles, the syringes, the alcohol pads — so that we can make sure that we get needles into arms right away. 

There’ll be an increasing number of shipments each and every week as we ramp up these efforts.  The process to export the 80 million takes partnership in coordination with the receiving governments.  But that’s well underway now.

On Tuesday, doses landed in Mexico.  Today, doses are landing in Canada.  And, yes, importantly, doses will be shipped to Brazil in the coming weeks. 

Next question. 

MODERATOR:  All right, last question.  We’ll go to Cheyenne Haslett, ABC News. 

Q    Hi, guys.  Thanks for taking my question.  Community groups say they’re worried about putting marginalized groups at risk again as we reopen.  Less vaccinated pockets — the Bronx, for example, has around 40 percent vaccination but makes up many of New York’s front-facing workers.  I wonder if you think reopening puts areas like that at risk.

MR. ZIENTS:  Dr. Walensky?

DR. WALENSKY:  Yeah, I would say we know how to protect ourselves against this virus.  The first line is vaccination, of course.  And then, prior to vaccination, we knew that and know that masking and distancing work.  So, what we’re really trying to do, as you note, is to get into those communities with trusted messengers to ensure that they know that that vaccine is available to them, to inform them and understand where they might be hesitant so that we can get them vaccinated.  And then, if not, to ensure that they’re working towards the mitigation strategies that they know work. 

MR. ZIENTS:  Dr. Murthy, anything to add there? 

DR. MURTHY:  Yeah, I completely agree with Dr. Walensky.  And I would also say that this is why our partnership with employers is so important, especially for those employers who have workers who are on the front lines, you know, whether in grocery stores or in healthcare settings.  We want them to do everything they can to help their staff get vaccinated, whether that’s providing them with information, whether that’s setting up access to the vaccine on site. 

So, we’re going to continue to work with employers because, as Dr. Walensky said, getting vaccinated remains the best way to protect ourselves, our workers, our neighbors, and our friends. 

DR. FAUCI:  Yeah, and also, opening up is not synonymous with stopping the push to vaccinate people.  So, I think people should not misinterpret that because a city or a state is opening up, that they’re done.  No, they’re not. 

We’re going to continue to push vaccination beyond the Fourth of July, into the summer, so to get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can, whether you’re open as a state or a city, or not.  That’s the goal. 

MR. ZIENTS:  Well, thank you, everybody.  We look forward to next week’s briefing.  Thank you. 

11:41 A.M. EDT

To view the COVID Press Briefing slides, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/COVID-Press-Briefing_17June2021_-for-transcript.pdf

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