Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials
1:36 P.M. EDT
MR. ZIENTS: Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us. Today, we’re joined by Doctors Fauci and Walensky, who I’ll turn to in a few minutes.
First, I want to report on the progress we are making to end the COVID-19 pandemic here at home and around the world.
Here at home, going into the 4th of July holiday weekend, Americans have good reason to celebrate. Thanks to the President’s whole-of-government response and the American people stepping up, more than 180 million Americans, including 67 percent of adults — two out of three adult Americans — have now received at least one shot.
In cases or death — deaths are down by more than 90 percent since January 20th. As a result, we have exceeded our expectations for where we would be on July 4th. And we’re in a strong position to build on this progress going forward.
This weekend, millions of Americans will be able to get together — back together, not just with their families and close friends for small backyard cookouts, but with their community for larger festivals, parades, and fireworks, celebrating our country’s July 4th Independence Day and the progress we have made against the virus together.
We will celebrate this progress on July 4th. But, of course, our work does not stop — because as the President has said, our work to vaccinate the millions of Americans who still need protection against the virus continues across the summer months. And our resolve to reach those who have not yet gotten their shot is only strengthened because of the spread of the Delta variant.
As we push to get more Americans vaccinated, we will also continue mobilizing and leading the effort to vaccinate the world. Earlier this year, the President committed that the United States will be an arsenal of vaccines for the world.
Through historic announcements and actions, we are delivering on the President’s commitment. Over the past several weeks, the President has committed to sharing 580 million doses of vaccine to the world, including a half billion doses of Pfizer vaccine that the United States will purchase and donate to 100 countries in need.
This is by far the largest-ever donation of COVID-19 vaccines by a single country. And this historic announcement builds on the prior commitment we made to share 80 million doses of our own surplus U.S. vaccine.
These 80 million doses have all been shared with 46 countries, the African Union, and CARICOM through a combination of bilateral sharing and sharing through COVAX.
Each country has now received a specific number and type of U.S. vaccines they will be shipped. By the end of this week, we will have shipped out about 40 million doses, including doses to the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Taiwan, Honduras, Colombia, Pakistan, Peru, Ecuador, Malaysia, and Bangladesh.
The remaining doses will be shipped in the coming weeks as countries complete their own domestic set of operational, regulatory, and legal processes that are specific to each country. These U.S. doses will boost vaccination efforts in these countries and save lives.
And just as our work to vaccinate Americans does not stop on July 4th, our work to help vaccinate the world does not stop at these 80 million doses. We will continue to share tens of millions more U.S. doses over the summer months as we help lead the fight to end the pandemic across the globe.
In a few minutes, I will discuss how the Biden administration is mobilizing to support states and communities experienced increasing cases of the Delta variant.
But first, let me turn to Dr. Walensky to provide us an update on the state of the pandemic, including the Delta variant, and then Dr. Fauci to discuss the essential role our vaccines are playing in curbing its spread, including the spread of the Delta variant.
With that, over to you Dr. Walensky.
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you, Jeff. Good afternoon. Let’s begin with an overview of the data. Yesterday, CDC reported 14,875 new cases of COVID-19. Our seven-day average is about 12,600 cases per day. And while this is a 95 percent decrease, lower from our peak in early January, it does also reflect a 10 percent increase in the seven-day average from last week. The seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 1,822 per day, a decrease of about 1 percent from the prior seven-day period. And the seven-day average of daily deaths was about 257.
Looking across the country, we have made incredible progress towards ending the pandemic. We continue to see overall low numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. However, looking state by state and county by county, it is clear that communities where people remain unvaccinated are communities that remain vulnerable. This is all true as we monitor the continued spread of the hyper-transmissible Delta variant.
The Delta variant is predicted to be the second most prevalent variant in the United States, and I expect that in the coming weeks it will eclipse the alpha variant. An estimated 25 percent of all reported SARS-CoV-2 sequences nationwide are the Delta variant. And in some regions of the country, nearly one in two sequences is the Delta variant.
There are communities that are vulnerable and where we are now seeing surges in cases, and indeed also hospitalizations, due to what could be the spread of the Delta variant and low vaccination rates in these communities.
Currently, approximately 1,000 counties in the United States have vaccination coverage of less than 30 percent. These communities, primarily in the Southeast and Midwest, are our most vulnerable. In some of these areas, we are already seeing increasing rates of disease. As the Delta variant continues to spread across the country, we expect to see increased transmissions in these communities, unless we can vaccinate more people now.
As you will hear from Dr. Fauci shortly, our authorized vaccines provide protection against the circulating variants in this country, including Delta. Vaccination is how we protect these individuals, families, and communities, and prevent severe disease, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19.
Preliminary data from a collection of states over the last six months suggest 99.5 percent of deaths from COVID-19 in these states have occurred in unvaccinated people.
Any suffering or death from COVID-19 is tragic. With vaccines available across the country, the suffering and loss we are now seeing is nearly entirely avoidable. COVID-19 [vaccines] are available and free for everyone aged 12 and up, and I encourage everyone who has not been vaccinated, especially those in these vulnerable communities with low vaccine coverage, to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated.
As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, I want to remind those who remain unvaccinated to protect themselves by wearing a mask and avoiding crowds to prevent transmission and illness. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, please get tested. And, of course, please get vaccinated in one of the many places near you as soon as you can.
Please enjoy a safe family- and friend-filled holiday weekend. Thank you.
I’ll now turn things over to Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. What I’d like to do over the next couple of minutes is to address the issue of the role of the COVID-19 vaccines that we have available to us and their ability to protect against the Delta variant.
If I could have the first slide.
It is simple — simplified to think about it in three separate buckets: What is the protection against infection, against symptomatic disease, or against hospitalization? And we have data for all three.
First, in a study published online on June 14, from Scotland, it was shown that the mRNA vaccine had about an 80 percent effectiveness against PCR-confirmed infection. In this situation, two doses of AZ was about 60 percent effective.
Next, with regard — next slide — to symptomatic disease: Again, in this study, in medRxiv, published on May 21st — 24th — two weeks after the second dose of Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, again, 88 percent effective against symptomatic disease from the Delta variant.
Next, what about hospitalization? Again, from Public Health England, from June 14, the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine was 96 percent effective against hospitalization from the Delta variant after two doses, and the AZ was 92 percent effective against hospitalization after two doses.
The question then obviously arises: The direct data we have are from AZ and the mRNA vaccines; what about J&J? A question often asked. There’s indirect evidence for effectiveness of J&J against the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant. And the reason is that the effectiveness of this vaccine is similar to a vaccine for which we do have data, namely the AZ — the data that I just showed you.
Since these vaccines — the AZ and the J&J — are based on very similar platforms, one could anticipate and make a reasonable assumption that the results against the Delta variant would be at least similar, perhaps even better. We are now looking at neutralization data, and soon we will have more firm data which we will we make available to you as soon as it occurs.
Another question commonly asked: Is the WHO concerned about the Delta variant — has urged vaccinated people to keep wearing masks? There’s a reason for that. The WHO is responsible for the planet as a whole. It’s different in the world in general, from here in the United States.
As shown here, if you look at the share of the population fully vaccinated in the United States and worldwide, they’re dramatically different, as is the dynamics of infection. And as we’ve always said, you can make general guidelines, but you also have to be flexible enough at various levels — be it a country level, or within a country at local levels.
Bottom line and finally, the good news we have is that we have a solution. The science is clear. The best way to protect yourself against the virus and its variants is to be fully vaccinated. It works. It’s free. It’s safe. It’s easy. And it’s convenient, as President Biden has said in a speech in North Carolina just several days ago.
Thank you. I’ll pass it back to Jeff.
MR. ZIENTS: Well, thank you, Dr. Walensky and Dr. Fauci. As both Dr. Walensky and Dr. Fauci just made clear, the Delta variant is a threat to unvaccinated Americans and to communities with low vaccination rates. And the best way for communities to protect themselves from the virus is by getting more people vaccinated.
From day one, the President’s whole-of-government response effort has been closely tracking the data on the pandemic and vaccination effort in states and counties. And we’ve worked with governors and local public health officials to ensure they have the support they need to curb the spread of the virus.
Today, given what we are seeing with the spread of Delta in some communities in the country, we’re intensifying our efforts to help states prevent, detect, and respond to hotspots among the unvaccinated by mobilizing COVID-19 surge response teams to be at the ready to deploy federal resources and, where needed, federal personnel.
These are dedicated teams working with communities at higher risk for or already experiencing outbreaks due to the spread of the Delta variant and their low vaccination rate.
Our COVID-19 surge response teams will be ready to, one, surge additional testing into communities to expand detection of the virus and allow public health authorities to do contact tracing to help contain outbreaks.
Two, provide therapeutics to help treat those infected with COVID.
Three, deploy federal personnel where needed and where requested to address gaps and augment local staff supporting vaccination, testing, and therapeutics work.
Four, leverage CDC’s technical expertise to help communities experiencing or at risk for becoming hotspots with containment, including assisting with epidemiology, data analysis, field investigations, and other public health response work.
And five, as Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky have both underscored, the most important step we can take to prevent these outbreaks is for more Americans to get vaccinated. That’s why the COVID-19 surge response teams will focus on increasing shots in arms in communities with low vaccination rates who are fighting outbreaks, including through targeted paid media into these areas.
To be clear: The federal government stands ready to meet the moment and work with our state partners to respond to the Delta variant.
And as we continue to work with communities across the country to get more shots in arms, we will also be working with governors and state and local health authorities to identify and address the needs on the ground in places with emerging outbreaks, including potential deployment of federal personnel.
Before we open up to questions, I want to close with this thought: Thanks to the President’s whole-of-government response, we are further in our fight against the virus than anyone anticipated. And importantly, in the weeks and months ahead, we will continue mobilizing the whole of government to help state and local leaders bring an end to this pandemic by doubling down to get even more Americans vaccinated and stopping the spread as soon as possible when cases do increase.
With that, let’s open it up for some questions.
MODERATOR: Thanks Jeff. And a reminder to please keep questions to one question. First, we’ll going to Yamiche at PBS.
Q Thank you so much for taking my question. What are — can you tell us more about whether or not Americans may be having to go back to wearing masks in light of the Delta variant? We saw Los Angeles County and the WHO both recommending that even vaccinated people should wear masks. Where does that stand? Should people be preparing themselves to possibly going back to wearing masks if they’re vaccinated?
MR. ZIENTS: Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Well, as I was alluding to in my comments, you have a broad recommendation for the country as a whole, which is the CDC recommendation, that if you are vaccinated, you have a high degree of protection so you need not wear a mask either indoor or outdoor.
But also, as is said and as the CDC has recommended, is that there’s a degree of flexibility. People at the local level, depending upon the on-ground situation, will make recommendations or not according to the local situation. But the broad recommendation that the CDC makes, based on the high degree of effectiveness of the vaccine, remains unchanged.
MR. ZIENTS: Next question.
MODERATOR: Sharon LaFraniere at the New York Times.
Q Thank you for taking my question. Dr. Fauci, I wanted to ask: Why is the data on whether J&J works against the Delta variant lagging behind the data for other vaccines? And what do you make of reports that J&J recipients are now asking for Pfizer and Moderna doses as boosters? Do you recommend that?
DR. FAUCI: Well, first of all, the reason is the paucity of direct clinical trial data in the context of Delta variant. So you have a much, much more wider use globally of the mRNAs in situations in which you can actually make data-based statements on that. And that’s the reason why I show that slide — that, from the standpoint of data right now, you have to make an extrapolation based on what you would predict from what it does with other variants and what it does comparable to other vaccine products such as AZ.
With regard to the idea of boosting: There’s a lot of talk about that, but right now I think we still need to remember that, in fact, the J&J vaccine is a highly effective vaccine that has been recommended very clearly and has received an emergency use authorization.
The situation right now is that people, locally, will be making those kinds of decisions, but you should only be making a formal recommendation based on clinical data. So that’s the reason why, even though individual physicians will be doing that, from a clinical trial basis, there’s no real fundamental scientific reason to do that right now.
When those data become available, you will see recommendations change according to the data.
MR. ZIENTS: Next question, please.
MODERATOR: Meg Tirrell at CNBC.
Q Thank you. I’m wondering: You know, some folks have pointed to the vaccines still being under emergency use authorization as perhaps one reason that people may still be on the fence about getting them. Do you have any guidance about when you expect potential full approval — the process to kind of come to fruition for these vaccines? When would — might we see that from the FDA?
And a quick second follow-up. I apologize. But, Dr. Walensky, are you concerned about, as people are taking their masks off and starting to circulate more, the rise of other respiratory infections other than COVID that you’re seeing right now?
MR. ZIENTS: So why don’t we start with the second one, Dr. Walensky.
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you, Meg. You know, I think we saw actually a paucity of viral infections last year. Many of our pediatricians would say that they didn’t see a lot of people coming in with upper respiratory infections. I do think part of that was the distancing, the not being in school, and of course, the masking.
I do anticipate that in the months ahead, if people are not wearing masks — and we’ve seen — started to see some of this already — that there will likely be an increase of upper respiratory infections in places that are not wearing masks.
MR. ZIENTS: So, in terms of the emergency use authorization and moving toward full approval, that’s at the FDA, and that’s obviously the FDA’s decision to make. I know that Pfizer and Moderna have provided data to the FDA, and the FDA is working on an expedited timeframe.
But, Dr. Fauci, you might want to just talk about the experience we have with the vaccines — the hundreds of millions — and what that should tell people about their safety and efficacy.
DR. FAUCI: Yeah. Thank you, Jeff. You know, as always, we don’t want to get ahead of the FDA. You know, they have their process where they need to cross all the “T’s” and dot all the “i’s.” But if you look at the history of emergency use authorizations, they use for a wide range of emergency approval of interventions, often the criteria is: Does the benefit appear to be better than the risk involved?
Very infrequently do you have such an extraordinary amount of data of literally hundreds of millions of doses, and a lot of real-world effectiveness data, as well as safety, having been accumulated.
So, again, although it’s understandable how some people would say, “Well, we really want to wait to the full approval,” to have an emergency authorization and to have this amount of extraordinarily positive data, one would say — again, the caveat: You never want to get ahead of the FDA — but it would really be a most unusual situation not to see this get full approval. I believe it’s going to happen.
The timing is such that I hope it does not get people to hesitate from taking a potentially lifesaving vaccine that already has an extraordinary amount of data as to its real-world effectiveness and its safety.
MR. ZIENTS: Next question.
MODERATOR: Tamara Keith, at NPR.
Q Thank you for taking my question. My question is — I noticed that as you talked about the next steps and the next phase, you’re talking about these surge response teams going into states. Is that the next phase of this push? Is it more focused on the states?
You talked a lot — your language talked about states asking the federal government for help. At this point, is this shifting from Cabinet officials barnstorming the country, begging people to get vaccinated, to, “Welp, states, you figure it out”?
MR. ZIENTS: Not at all. Absolutely not. This — the surge response teams are important to be ready to work with, where called upon, states and counties that are in a situation where there’s fewer people vaccinated and cases are increasing. So that’s capabilities that we’ve had in place that we’re amping up to deal with the Delta variant. So that’s an important area of focus.
But even as vaccinations have slowed somewhat across the last month or so, we are still vaccinating millions of people each week. More than 2 million people each week in June have gotten their first shot, and millions more, importantly, are getting their second shot because Dr. Fauci’s data on the effectiveness — that’s about people getting their second shot, their full regimen.
And we’ll double down on these efforts as we continue to vaccinate millions of people across the summer months. So this whole-of-government wartime response continues. We’re working, more and more, person by person, community by community — meeting people where they are: in places of worship, deploying pop-up clinics and mobile clinics. We’ll continue to answer people’s questions, as we’ve talked about before.
Doctors are critical here. They are trusted messengers, and we are getting vaccines more and more into doctors’ offices. We’ll work with employers and schools to bring vaccines on site as people go back to school and back to work.
And then, throughout all of our efforts, equity and fairness will continue to be at the center. So this whole-of-federal-government, wartime-like approach — it continues. And the surge response teams are just another approach, given the Delta variant and the time that we find ourselves in.
MODERATOR: Last question. Let’s go to Andrea Shalal at Reuters.
Q Thank you so much for taking my question. Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky, I want to ask you a question that I asked at the White House briefing recently. Does it send a bad signal — given what we’re seeing now, in terms of the Delta variant and these increases in certain communities — that, in Washington, the nation’s capital, there’s going to be a large party at the White House on July 4th and there’s going to be fireworks on the National Mall? I mean, is that a little bit of a mixed signal, on one hand, to be sending to the country at this point?
MR. ZIENTS: Let me go first there. And then, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky, please chime in.
You know, the Fourth of July is a moment for us to step back and celebrate our progress. We’ve made tremendous progress in our fight against the virus, with now two out of three adult Americans with at least one shot. And directly because of this work, deaths and hospitalizations have fallen 90 percent since January 20th.
The American people should be proud of the work that we’ve collectively done, and we want to recognize that progress and that work on July 4th.
People who are vaccinated have a high degree of protection, and those who are not vaccinated are at risk. And they need to continue to wear a mask and, as the doctors have said, get vaccinated as soon as possible.
At the same time, as we just talked about, there’s a lot more work to do. So we’re going to double down on our efforts to keep pushing more and more people to get vaccinated by making it, as Dr. Fauci said, easy. Lots of places to get vaccinated. It’s free. It’s convenient.
So we’re going to keep doing that, but, right now, it’s an appropriate time to step back and celebrate the progress we’ve made. At the same time, we’ve got a lot more work to do.
DR. FAUCI: Well, Jeff, you said it very well. I mean, nothing has really changed in our policy. You’re dealing with the — a very important national holiday. The country, as a whole, as I’ve mentioned and we have mentioned several times, has done very well.
You can still celebrate at the same time as you get your message very, very clear. And the message for the situation in Washington is the same, and you said it very well. That is: If you are vaccinated, you have a high degree of protection. If you are not, you should wear a mask and you should think very seriously about getting vaccinated.
So, in so many respects, nothing has really changed. We are celebrating, as a country, at the same time as we recognize the fact that we’re in a serious situation for those who have not been vaccinated. And the message is: Get vaccinated.
MR. ZIENTS: Okay. Let’s close on: Get vaccinated if you’re not vaccinated, and happy Fourth of July weekend to everyone.
We look forward to seeing everybody next week. Thank you.
2:04 P.M. EDT
To view the COVID Press Briefing slides, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/COVID-Press-Briefing_1July2021_for-transcript.pdf