Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials
12:35 P.M. EDT
MR. ZIENTS: Good morning, and thanks for joining us. We’re joined by Drs. Fauci, Walensky, and Murthy, who I will turn to in a few moments.
First, today, I want to report on the progress we are making in our fight to end the pandemic, specifically as it relates to the President’s goals for July 4th.
In March, on the one-year anniversary of the start of the pandemic and less than two months after taking office, President Biden provided Americans an update on the whole-of-government effort he was mobilizing to defeat the virus and set what, at the time, seemed like an audacious goal for the country: independence from COVID-19 by July 4th.
The President was clear about what achieving this very ambitious goal would require. First, we needed to build on the work we began on January 20th, taking additional bold steps to make vaccines even more accessible to all Americans and to further accelerate the pace of vaccinations.
And second, we needed “every American to do their part.” He said, quote, “If we do all this, if we do our part, if we do this together, by July the 4th, there’s a good chance you, your families, and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout and celebrate Independence Day.” He said that this would not mean large events with lots of people together, but rather with small groups of close friends and family.
Just three months later, look at where we are. We have succeeded beyond our highest expectations. Instead of just small, backyard gatherings, America is getting ready for a truly historic Fourth of July, with large celebrations planned in communities across the country.
Here at the White House, we will be celebrating our independence from the virus with over 1,000 people on the White House lawn — 1,000 of our nation’s military and frontline workers celebrating how far we have come as a country in such a short period of time.
And here’s why we are able to do so: Since the President took office, COVID-19 cases and deaths are down by over 90 percent. Nearly every state is open for most activities, and the economy is rebounding strongly.
Importantly, today I am announcing exciting news. We have already met the President’s 70 percent goal for all U.S. adults 30 and older. That’s right: For those ages 30 and above, 70 percent have at least one shot.
We got here because the President treated this as a wartime effort; built a whole-of-government response to defeat the pandemic; and mobilized state and local governments, the private and non-profit sectors, and asked every American to join this fight.
In the past 150 days, we went from not having enough supply to securing supply — enough supply to vaccinate all Americans and making every adult eligible for vaccinations months ahead of expectations.
We went from not having enough places to get vaccinated to more than 81,000 convenient vaccination sites. In fact, today, 90 percent of Americans live within five miles of a vaccine site. Tens of thousands of sites offer walk-in vaccinations, and thousands are open 24 hours a day on Fridays in June.
And Americans have new tools to find the most convenient vaccination sites and free transportation to get to and from sites.
We have built an unparalleled, first-of-its-kind, nationwide vaccination program. And as a result, we have successfully executed the most complex, logistical task: administering 300 million shots in just 150 days.
To put that into perspective, at the pace the U.S. was vaccinating before the President took office, it would have taken 336 days — almost a year — to get 300 million shots in arms.
Instead of hitting the major milestone of 300 million shots in June, we would have hit it in December — six months from now. And America would have looked a lot different than it does today. We would have lost more lives; more people would have gotten sick; and many of our businesses, restaurants, and schools would still be closed.
The President understood that we did not have a day to waste, and we have moved at an unprecedented speed.
Importantly, Americans have responded to the President’s call. More than 175 million Americans have rolled up their sleeves and gotten at least one shot, and over 150 million Americans are now fully vaccinated.
As a result, we are close to achieving two aspirational goals we set for July 4th. The first goal was related to the percentage of adults who have at least one shot by July 4th. We asked Americans, state and local governments, and the private sector to help get to 70 percent of all adults with at least one shot by July 4th. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have already met this goal.
And let’s remember, when the President took office, we were at approximately 5 percent of adults with one shot. So, in just five months, we have been racing from 5 percent to 70 percent.
So, how are we doing? Today, I want to drill down on the numbers that show where we have made the most progress and where we have more work to do.
We set 70 percent of adults as our aspirational target, and we have met or exceeded it for most of the adult population. This is a remarkable achievement.
When we began our vaccination campaign, we prioritized the most vulnerable. And it’s clear from the numbers that this strategy has worked. Looking at Americans 65 and older — our most at-risk group — we have more than 87 percent with at least one shot. Again, 87 percent of seniors, who tragically accounted for about 80 percent of COVID deaths, have gotten at least one shot. And today, nearly 80 percent of people 65 and older are fully vaccinated. That’s lifesaving progress.
For Americans who are 40 years old and over, 75 percent have received at least one shot. For Americans 30 and older, we have met the President’s goal of at least one shot. That’s right: We have met the President’s 70 percent goal for all U.S. adults 30 and over.
And based on today’s estimates, we’re on track to hit the 70 percent target for those age 27 and over once the data for the July 4th holiday weekend is fully in.
So, as to our goal of 70 percent for all adults, we’re going to hit it for adults 27 and older. This is amazing progress and has our country returning to normal much sooner than anyone could have predicted.
Where the country has more work to do is particularly with 18- to 26-year-olds. The reality is: Many younger Americans have felt like COVID-19 is not something that impacts them and they’ve been less eager to get the shot.
However, with the Delta variant now spreading across the country and infecting younger people worldwide, it’s more important than ever that they get vaccinated.
We are working with state and local leaders to reach them. We think it’ll take a few extra weeks to get to 70 percent of all adults with at least one shot, with the 18- to 26-years-olds factored in.
So, to recap: With respect to the first goal of getting at least one shot to 70 percent of American adults, already we’re at almost 90 percent for 65 and older, over 75 percent for 40 and older, and 70 percent for 30 and older.
We will meet the 70 percent goal for ages 27 and older by end of July 4th weekend, with a few extra weeks needed for the 18- to 26-year-olds to get vaccinated.
Now, everyone involved in this effort knows, and the President has said repeatedly: Our work does not stop on July 4th or at 70 percent. But we used this aspirational goal to drive progress in a very short period of time. It has taken a huge collective effort, and we have made significant progress.
The second aspirational goal we set was to have 160 million Americans fully vaccinated by July 4th. For context, only 3 million Americans were fully vaccinated when the President came into office.
In just five months, we’ve grown that number from 3 million to over 150 million fully vaccinated Americans. That represents more than 56 percent of the adult population. This is important progress across the country. And we will hit 160 million Americans fully vaccinated no later than mid-July.
Throughout the last five months, the President has set goals to rally the American people behind defeating this virus, with the most important and most ambitious being to celebrate our independence from the virus on July 4th — for America to look like America again. And thanks the President’s whole-of-government effort and the American people stepping up to do their part, we are there.
The virus is in retreat in communities across the country. We are entering a summer of joy, a summer of freedom. This is cause for celebration, and that’s exactly what Americans will be able to do on July 4th: celebrate independence from the virus.
But we’re not done, because for all the progress we’ve made as a nation, individuals who are still unvaccinated are still at risk. We are not leaving anyone behind in our response. And we will continue to put equity at the center of everything we do, to focus on helping at-risk and hard-hit communities drive up vaccination rates.
We want every American in every community to be protected and free from fear of the virus. That’s why we’ll keep working to vaccinate more Americans across the summer and into the fall. As I said, we are not stopping at 70 percent, and we’re not stopping on July 4th.
And as we push to get more Americans vaccinated, we’re also focused on leading the efforts to vaccinate the world. We’re in a position to do so because of our success here at home and because we’ve secured enough supply — more than enough supply for all Americans.
In the last week alone, we have shipped millions of surplus U.S doses overseas, including to our neighbors in Mexico and Canada, as well as Taiwan. In total, we’ve already committed to sharing 580 million doses, and we expect to continue to commit more and more to the world over the summer months as we help lead the fight to end the pandemic across the globe.
Now to say more about why the progress we are making here at home matters, let me turn it over to Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Jeff. I’m going to just spend a few minutes now recapitulating what Jeff said about where we are, where we want to be, and how we get there, and what the obstacles are.
And can I have the first slide.
As Jeff has said, our aspirational goal for July 4th was 70 percent of the adult population receiving at least one dose, but that is not the goal line, nor is it the endgame. The endgame is to go well beyond that, beyond July 4th, into the summer and beyond, with the ultimate goal of crushing the outbreak completely in the United States.
Now, what are one of the main obstacles for that? Obviously, it’s under-vaccinated people and under-vaccinated regions of the country, particularly among the young and, as Jeff said, particularly among individuals 18 to 26 — although any age of an unvaccinated person is someone we need to get vaccinated as we concentrate on the younger.
If you take a look, for example — can I have the next slide, please. There are 16 states, plus the District of Columbia, have vaccinated greater than 70 percent; 4 U.S. states vaccinated less than 50. And so between them, you have 30 states between 50 and more than 70 percent. And those are the individuals that we need to concentrate on.
But let’s take a look at what the challenge is.
If you look at the growing threat of what we’re all concerned about: the Delta variant. What do we know about that variant? The transmissibility is unquestionably greater than the wild-type SARS-CoV-2, as well as the Alpha variant. It is associated with an increased disease severity, as reflected by hospitalization risk, compared to Alpha. And in lab tests, associated with modest decreased neutralization by sera from previously infected and vaccinated individuals. But efficacy, as I’ll get to in a moment, is something that has held up.
Let’s take a look at the UK, because we have followed the UK in so many respects, with regard to the B117 Alpha. But look at what’s happened to the UK from February to June — i.e., this month. The gray shading was the B117 — the Alpha. Look at how the Delta — in red — completely began to dominate the isolates throughout the UK, to the point where it’s well over 95 percent now.
Among whom is this taking place? The Imperial College of London did a study in over 100,000 homes, and looked and found that youth were driving the UK surge, with a fivefold higher positivity among children 5 to 12 and young adults 18 to 24, versus people older than 65 years old.
Look at what’s happening in the United States. We seem, as was the case with B117 — we seem to be following the pattern with the Delta variant, with a doubling time of about two weeks if you look from the May 8th with 1.2, to 2.7, to 9.9, and as of a couple of days ago, 20.6 percent of the isolates are Delta.
Here is now some of the good news and one of our tools. The effectiveness of the vaccines — in this case, two weeks after the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech — was 88 percent effective against the Delta and 93 percent effective against the Alpha when you’re dealing with symptomatic disease.
When you look at hospitalizations, again, both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Oxford-AstraZeneca are between 92 and 96 percent effective against hospitalizations.
You put all of these things together, and you come to what we would call a “self-evident conclusion.”
Next and last slide.
Similar to the situation in the UK, the Delta variant is currently the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate COVID-19. Good news: Our vaccines are effective against the Delta variant.
Conclusion: We have the tools, so let’s use them and crush the outbreak.
I’ll hand it now over to Dr. Walensky.
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you, Dr. Fauci. And good afternoon, everyone. Let’s begin with an overview of the data. Yesterday, CDC reported 9,816 new cases of COVID-19, and our seven-day average is about 10,350 cases per day. This represents a decrease of nearly 18 percent from the prior seven-day average and is the lowest seven-day average since March 25th, 2020.
The seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 1,790 per day, a decrease of about 14 percent from the prior seven-day period.
And the seven-day average of daily deaths have also declined to 273 per day.
These numbers demonstrate the extraordinary progress we’ve made against a formidable foe. Thanks to our vaccination programs, we are seeing a dramatic decline in deaths, hospitalization, and cases. And we will continue to vaccinate people across the summer months.
COVID-19 vaccines are available for everyone ages 12 and up. They are nearly 100 percent effective against severe disease and death, meaning nearly every death due to COVID-19 is particularly tragic because nearly every death, especially among adults, due to COVID-19 is, at this point, entirely preventable.
This new virus forced too many of our families to accept death as an outcome for too many of our loved ones, but now this should not be the case. As more Americans have rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated, we have chipped away at the ability of the COVID-19 virus to cause more illness and more suffering. As I’ve often said, this virus is an opportunist. As long as there are those who are not vaccinated, COVID-19 will remain a threat.
CDC continues to follow the prevalence of the Delta variant of COVID-19, as you’ve just heard. In the last two weeks, the prevalence of cases resulting from the Delta variant has doubled to just over 20 percent, as Dr. Fauci just showed.
This variant represents nearly half of all infections in HHS Regions 7 and 8. This is concerning but expected, knowing what we do about how efficiently this variant spreads and by what we saw in the United Kingdom with this variant.
We know our vaccines work against this variant. However, this variant represents a set of mutations that could lead to future mutations that evade our vaccine. And that’s why it’s more important than ever to get vaccinated now, to stop the chain of infection, the chain of mutations that could lead to a more dangerous variant.
While not everyone with COVID-19 may require hospitalization at the time of their infection, one of the unfortunate outcomes from COVID-19 is something known as “post-COVID conditions” or “long COVID.” Post-COVID conditions are an umbrella term for the wide range of physical and mental health problems that occur four or more weeks after being infected with COVID-19. Current research suggests that up to 20 percent of people are reporting post-COVID condition symptoms, but additional research is needed and is ongoing with funding from NIH and CDC.
Even people who did not have symptoms when they were infected can have post-COVID conditions. Symptoms may vary and may include fatigue, brain fog, headache, loss of smell or taste, dizziness on standing, heart palpitations, chest pain, difficulty breathing, cough, joint or muscle pain, depression and anxiety and insomnia. These symptoms can persist for weeks or months after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, or appear weeks after infection. For some people, they can be severely debilitating.
A recent study published in MMWR found that two out of three adults who had COVID-19 and were not hospitalized for their initial illness went on to have at least one outpatient visit for symptoms — such as chest or throat pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, and cough — one to six months after they were initially diagnosed with COVID-19.
The study also found that more than one in three patients had to be referred to a specialist, such as doctors that specialize in pulmonology, neurology, cardiology, and behavioral or mental health. In other words, even patients who were not hospitalized for COVID-19 infection were commonly referred for additional evaluation for COVID-19-related symptoms and conditions after their initial illness. We have seen post-COVID conditions in people of all ages, and this makes it even more important for anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.
There are many benefits of vaccination, including preventing serious illness — illness and death, but also the kind of long-term effects associated with post-COVID conditions.
I invite you to visit the CDC website to review new information to help healthcare professionals in evaluating caring for patients with post-COVID conditions. CDC is continuing to work to identify how common these longer-term effects are, who is the most likely to get them, and whether symptoms eventually resolve.
Multi-year studies are also on their — underway that will help us better understand post-COVID conditions and understand how to treat patients with these longer-term effects.
Thank you, all. And now, I’ll now turn things over to Dr. Murthy.
SURGEON GENERAL MURTHY: Well thank you so much, Dr. Walensky. As you — Jeff laid out for us, we’ve made remarkable progress in the last six months to get people vaccinated. And our work isn’t done yet, especially among young adults, 18- to 29-year-olds. Today, I want to talk about what we’ve been doing to increase our efforts to connect with them, and to ensure that they know that they can and should get vaccinated.
First, we focused on connecting directly with students in this age group through the COVID-19 College Challenge that was launched for the Month of Action. Colleges and Universities are now taking part in a pledge to commit to take action to get their students and communities vaccinated. Over 700 colleges and universities have already signed the pledge.
And last week, we launched this Student Community Corps, where students participate in biweekly calls to learn best practices and hear from their peers about how they can talk to friends, family members, and other community members about getting vaccinated.
Second, we’ve also partnered with companies nationwide who are offering incentives for young people. This includes major sports leagues, which are offering discounts and ticket giveaways; Spotify, which has launched a sweepstakes giveaway for tickets to independent music venues. It includes stores that are now offering free items when a customer shows their vaccination cards. And, as of today, Walgreens is giving every person who comes in to get a vaccine between now and July 4th a $25 gift card.
Third, we also know that misinformation continues to be rampant on many online platforms that young people visit, which is why we’re meeting them there with accurate information through trusted messengers about the COVID-19 vaccine. We’ve launched media campaigns to reach different communities with this — within this age group, including our Digital Day of Action, which reached more than 280 million people across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, plus the celebrity PSAs on more than 850 radio stations.
We’ve organized Instagram Lives with influencers and a YouTube townhall where influencers and creators are in conversation with public figures and doctors, including those of us on this press conference and President Biden.
And we’re also meeting gamers where they are. Riot Games has been airing Vaccine.gov PSAs on their E-game livestreams, and is working on other ways to connect with young people on video game platforms.
In addition to all of this, we are asking all young people to have conversations with friends and family members, encouraging their communities to get vaccinated and actually helping them then get to a vaccination site, which you can do more easily than ever before, given how many sites we have and how easy it is to find them at Vaccines.gov, or by texting your ZIP Code to GETVAX or to VACUNA.
You know, when we look back at our history as a country, it’s clear that so many of our most meaningful movements for change have been led by young people, whether it’s the Civil Rights Movement or our original fight for independence in America.
And this generation of young adults has shown, time and time again, their incredible energy and power to drive change. Today, they have the power to get vaccinated, to help their family and friends get vaccinated, and to help protect our nation. I believe they will rise to the challenge, and we will be there to work with them and to support them at every step of the way.
Thank you all. And I’ll turn it back over to Jeff.
MR. ZIENTS: Wonderful. Thank you, Doctors. Now let’s open it up for a few questions.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Jeff. We only have time for a few questions today. But first, we’re going to go to Sharon LaFraniere, New York Times.
Q Thank you. Sorry, I had to unmute. So I’d like to ask what will happen this winter if there continues to be a solid 20 to 30 percent of the adults who refuse to get vaccinated? Could there be a renewed surge? Could we even get back up to like 1,000 daily deaths? Or are those days behind us?
MR. ZIENTS: Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: If there is a persistence of a recalcitrant group that doesn’t get vaccinated, there will be local type of regional spikes and outbreaks. I don’t foresee what we refer to a surge as we have known it, namely the three major surges that we’ve experienced over the past year and a half.
I don’t think, even under those circumstances, that you’re going to see things like 1,000 deaths a day. I think that is a bit much. But there is a danger — a real danger — that if there is a persistence of a recalcitrance to getting vaccinated, that you could see localized surges, which is the reason why I want to emphasize what all four of us have said: All of that is totally and completely avoidable by getting vaccinated.
So, the very fact that you bring up the question, which means there’s a reality that that could happen, should hopefully stimulate people to appreciate that they have, within their own wherewithal, to prevent that from happening to get vaccinated.
MR. ZIENTS: And I would just add: With 70 percent of people over 30 already with at least one dose; with 54 percent of Americans — adult Americans — fully vaccinated, we have a very strong platform to build off of. And we’re going to continue to vaccinate millions and millions more Americans across the coming months.
MODERATOR: Kaitlan, CNN.
Q Thanks so much for doing this. Since we’re not going to hit this goal now of 70 percent with one shot by July 4th, can you say when you do expect to hit that goal?
And then, secondly, I noticed there’s been a lot of focus on the milestones that they’ve hit so far. Should we expect any new goals on vaccinations going forward from the administration?
MR. ZIENTS: So, Kaitlan, just to summarize where we are: We’re already at people ov- — 30 and over, we’re at 70 percent. By July 4th, we’ll be over 70 percent for 27 and over. And within a few weeks, we will be over 70 percent — 70 percent or over for the whole adult population. And then we’re going to continue to drive across the summer and into the early fall to vaccinate more and more people.
I’ll leave it to the President to set an additional goal. He’s our goal-setter, and he’s done a great job at setting aspirational and ambitious goals that have really driven our success.
SURGEON GENERAL MURTHY: If I could just add one thing to this and — thinking of it as just as we do in medicine when we’re taking care of patients, you know, you pay attention to numbers — like (inaudible) values and other numbers that are important — but the most important thing at the end of the day is: How’s the patient doing? How are they feeling? What can they do?
And similarly, when we think about this effort, the most important goal that we’re focused on is: What can people in our country do as a result of this vaccination effort? And there, I think what’s been encouraging to me and so many of us is that we have actually exceeded where we thought we would be.
We thought people would be able to get together, have barbecues again if they were vaccinated. We are finding now, given the progress we’ve made thanks to the hard work of people all over this country, that we can not only do that, but if you’re vaccinated, you can be part of large gatherings. You can participate in so much more of life that we have missed out on over the last year.
So I think it’s just important to keep in mind that the most important metric at the end of the day is: What are we able to do in our lives? How much of “normal” have we been able to recapture?
And I think what we are seeing now is that we have exceeded our expectations. That we’ve just got to keep going because, until everybody is under that umbrella of protection, until everyone has their way of life back, we’re not going to stop in our vaccination effort.
MR. ZIENTS: Dr. Murthy, I couldn’t agree more. We are going to have a Fourth of July celebration which is beyond everyone’s highest expectations.
MODERATOR: Let’s got to Nancy Cordes at CBS.
Q Thank you so much. I’d love to hear from any of you about how you came up with the 70 percent goal in the first place. What led you to that particular number? And what do you think is the main thing that kept you from getting over that finish line? Did you assume that young people would get vaccinated in larger numbers than they have? That would be great. Thanks.
MR. ZIENTS: So, we did that as a team, relying very heavily or exclusively on the docs and scientists — many of whom are on this call.
Dr. Fauci, why don’t I turn it to you as to the 70 percent and where we are relative to Fourth of July and where we’re headed.
DR. FAUCI: Yeah. As some of you may remember, when we were talking about this concept of herd immunity and I repetitively said, “We don’t know what that number is, but you can make a reasonable intelligent estimate that it’s somewhere between 70 and 85 percent.” Because, remember, herd immunity is a combination of individuals who are vaccinated and individuals who are protected from — because of prior infection.
The lower number of that was 70. It seemed like a reasonable number to do. It was empiric. I mean, there was no mathematical certainty to it, but I think most — not “I think” — I know that most of us agreed that that was quite a reasonable number.
You did say something that’s interesting. You said “reached the goal line.” That’s not the goal line; that’s the aspirational goal. The goal line is to completely crush this outbreak, and that’s the endgame that I showed on my first slide.
So no one should think that when we reach this 70 percent across the country that we’re done. We are not done until we completely crush this outbreak.
DR. WALENSKY: And maybe just to emphasize the importance of the second dose. So, the 70 percent is the first-dose benchmark, but we also want people to get the second dose for their two-dose vaccines.
MR. ZIENTS: One more question.
MODERATOR: Yep. Zeke, AP.
Q Thanks for doing this. For those four states that haven’t even reached 50 percent of their — of their adult population yet, vaccinated: Is the White House looking at a different approach to those states? Is there — you know, we’ve heard those governors, saying they’re not — you know, it’s a personal choice for folks who are not quite — you know, is there a — should we expect to see a different strategy from you all going forward?
And then, secondly, after July 4th, a lot of these incentive programs run out. To Dr. Walensky’s comment that, sort of, every COVID death at this point is preventable, at a — you know, is the White House going to phase out its promotional campaign to drive people to vaccinate — vaccinations if at this point, you know, you’re throwing a lot of, you know — million — you know, the chance of winning the lottery at folks, and they’re still not getting vaccinated. Is that all going to go away and — if this is obviously people’s personal choices?
MR. ZIENTS: Zeke, this is — this intensity that you’ve witnessed across the last five months is going to continue for the foreseeable future until all Americans can get vaccinated.
So we will continue to meet people where they are — mobile clinics, doctors’ offices, pharmacies. They’ll continue to make it even easier and more convenient for people to get vaccinated.
People have questions about the vaccines, and we want to make sure that we’re ask- — answering those questions, addressing those questions at the local level — through doctors, through faith leaders, through trusted messengers at the local level.
So we’re not — we’re not slowing down at all. If anything, we’re speeding up, as Dr. Fauci has talked about, until we crush this disease. And we’ll continue to do everything we can to get as many Americans vaccinated as possible.
Dr. Murthy, anything to add there?
SURGEON GENERAL MURTHY: I think that’s exactly right, Jeff. And, Zeke, our approach and what we’ve learned over these past, you know, many months is that we have to go more and more and more local as this vaccination effort proceeds. It is through the one-on-one conversations, it’s through making access even easier and readily available to people that we’re going to reach more folks.
And we’ll continue to support states and local counties and city health officials in their effort to get people vaccinated. We’re not going to let up. I know July 4th has been an important deadline, but this continues long after July 4th. We’re not going anywhere. That’s for sure.
MR. ZIENTS: Well, thank you, everybody. Thank you for joining the briefing, and we’ll look forward to seeing you at the next one. Thank you.
1:11 P.M. EDT
To view the COVID Press Briefing slides, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/COVID-Press-Briefing_22June2021_for-transcript.pdf