Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials
11:09 A.M. EDT
MR. ZIENTS: Good morning, and thanks for joining us.
Today, Dr. Walensky will provide an update on the state of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci will present on the effectiveness of the vaccines and cases among the vaccinated, and I will discuss our work to get more people vaccinated and help states curb the spread of the virus. And Dr. Murthy will talk about the on-the-ground work we’re supporting in communities to get more people vaccinated. And then we’ll open it up for questions.
Over to Dr. Walensky.
DR. WALENSKY: Good morning. Thank you. And let’s begin with an overview of the data. Yesterday, CDC reported 46,318 new cases of COVID-19. Our seven-day average is at about 37,700 cases per day, and this represents an increase of 53 percent from the prior seven-day average. The seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 35,000 per day — an increase of about 32 percent from the previous seven-day period. And the seven-day average of daily deaths has also increased to 237 per day — and increase of about 19 percent from the previous seven-day period.
Today, I want to speak about our need to come together against a common enemy — SARS-CoV-2 and the Delta variant. The Delta variant is spreading with incredible efficiency and now represents more than 83 percent of the virus circulating in the United States. Compared to the virus we had circulating initially in the United States at the start of the pandemic, the Delta variant is more aggressive and much more transmissible than previously circulating strains. It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of and that I have seen in my 20-year career.
We recognize that some of you are still thinking about whether you will get vaccinated. Maybe you’re seeing your local officials stepping forward publicly to get vaccinated, or maybe you’re watching on local news that your community hospitals are getting full. Or scarier still, maybe COVID-19 sickness has tragically hit you or your community closer to home.
If you are still on the fence, if you still have questions about the vaccines, we welcome them. My request to you is this: Ask your questions. Talk to your healthcare provider. Talk to your pharmacist. Talk to your friends and neighbors who have gotten vaccinated and get your questions answered so that you feel comfortable and informed in making this critical decision. And, please, continue to do the things that we know work to protect you and your family until you are fully vaccinated.
If you are not vaccinated, please take the Delta variant seriously. This virus has no incentive to let up, and it remains in search of the next vulnerable person to infect.
Please consider getting vaccinated and take precautions until you do. And if you’ve already had COVID infection, CDC guidance strongly recommends that you get vaccinated. It gives you longer-lasting and more robust protection with the breadth and depth of coverage needed to conquer the variants currently circulating in this country.
To those of you who’ve already gotten vaccinated: I know you’re watching the rise in cases and have questions about what it means for you. I know you’re probably worried about two things: whether you will still get COVID despite being vaccinated and which activities are safe.
Let’s start with the first concern. Being fully vaccinated gives you a high degree of protection against infection and an even a higher degree of protection against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. That is what these vaccines were designed for and what the clinical trials studied, and the vaccines generally do their job quite well.
These vaccines are some of the most effective that we have in modern medicine. And the good news is that, current scientific evidence shows that our current vaccines are working as they did in clinical trials, even against the Delta variant.
Importantly, our data showed that infections are much less common in vaccinated people compared to unvaccinated, and most illness in vaccinated individuals is asymptomatic or mild. The most important public health step is to increase the vaccination coverage in all communities in the U.S. and globally.
There are places in this country where cases are high and cases caused by the Delta variant are also really high, and many of these areas have low vaccine coverage. In areas with high vaccine coverage and low rates of disease transmission, the chances of you coming in close contact with someone who is infectious is relatively low.
In contrast, in areas with low vaccine coverage and high transmission, there is a much higher chance of you coming in close contact with one or many persons who are infectious and that, in those cases, the greatest risk is for those who are not fully vaccinated.
Whether you are vaccinated or not, please know we, together, are not out of the woods yet and you will want to make thoughtful decisions to protect your health and the health of your family and your community. We are yet at another pivotal moment in this pandemic, with cases rising again and some hospitals reaching their capacity in some areas. We need to come together as one nation, unified in our resolve to protect the health of ourselves, our children, our community, our country, and our future with the tools we have available.
With that, I will turn it over to Dr. Fauci. Thank you.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. What I’d like to address for the next few minutes is the phenomenon that many have been speaking about lately, and that is the occurrence of infection after full vaccination.
So, let’s just give a bit of a background on the first slide. What do we mean by that? That is the detection of SARS-CoV-2 equal to or 14 days after completion after all recommended doses of what would be an FDA EUA-authorized vaccines.
It’s important to remember, as I’ll get to in a moment, that infections after vaccination are expected. No vaccine is 100 percent effective. However, even if a vaccine does not completely protect against infection, it usually, if it’s successful, protects against serious disease. And that’s what I’d like to spend a moment on.
If I could have the next slide.
This is a slide that I put together several years ago in trying to describe the situation with vaccines against the standard childhood and adult diseases, as well as the difficulty we were having with developing vaccines against HIV.
And when you think about vaccines being successful or unsuccessful — i.e. a failure — you really have to look at it in multiple subsets. For example, one element of a successful vaccine — in one in which there’s no illness, but there’s no replication of the virus, no dissemination of the virus, and clearance of the virus. That is something that is an unusual feat for a vaccine to give truly what we call “sterilizing immunity.”
Then, there’s is also, within the framework of a successful vaccine, one in which there’s no clinical illness, but there is replication of the virus. It doesn’t disseminate throughout the body. It stays at the level of entry — be that the upper airway, the GI tract, or what have you.
Another element of a successful vaccine is one in which there might be mild illness that really does not interfere with the function of a person; that has replication; mild — very mild dissemination, but ultimately the virus is cleared.
You have a failure of a vaccine when, actually, you get frank disease. In other words, you haven’t prevented the disease caused by the virus or the pathogen in question. In this place, you get substantial replication; you get substantial dissemination; and unless you have a lethal virus that kills the patient, ultimately the virus is cleared from the body.
So what we’re talking about when we talk about infection after vaccination, which is clearly being discussed now in the context of the Delta variant — by no means does that mean that you’re dealing with an unsuccessful vaccine. The success of the vaccine is based on the prevention of illness. So let’s just look at that very briefly.
These are the data that I’ve shown you multiple times about the efficacy of the Pfizer BioNTech and the Moderna: 95 and 94 percent respectively. Note: It is not 100 percent effective.
The same holds true for the J&J, which, in the United States, is 72 percent effective against clinically recognizable disease — not 100 percent effective.
And so, if you go to the last slide, what we’re really dealing with is effectiveness against serious disease leading to hospitalization and, in some cases, death.
And since the Delta variant is, as Dr. Walensky said, now 83 percent in this country, it’s the one we’re dealing with. So even though we are seeing infections after vaccination — referred commonly to as “breakthrough infections” — the effectiveness against severe disease is still substantial, which is, yet again, another argument which all of us say continually, “Get vaccinated. It offers good protection against disease.”
With that, we’ll go back to Jeff.
MR. ZIENTS: Well, thank you both, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky. It is clear that we’re experiencing what many other countries are experiencing: increased case counts driven by the more transmissible Delta variant.
We are concerned with the rise in cases among the unvaccinated, but we are also clear that we are in a very different situation than we were earlier this year for three reasons.
First and foremost, as Dr. Fauci just showed, our vaccines work. Fully vaccinated individuals have a high degree of protection against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. While we will see some cases among those who are vaccinated, as to be expected with any vaccine, these cases are generally mild and oftentimes asymptomatic, which is just more proof that the vaccines work. In fact, unvaccinated individuals account for virtually all — 97 percent — of the COVID hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S.
Second, we have fully vaccinated 162 million Americans, including 80 percent of those most vulnerable — individuals 65 years and older. As a result, we have fundamentally changed the course of this pandemic. The threat is now predominantly only to the unvaccinated.
The data is clear: The case increases are concentrated in communities with low vaccination rates. In fact, the counties with the highest case rates have significantly lower vaccination rates than counties with lower case rates. This week, just three states — Florida, Texas, and Missouri; three states with lower vaccination rates — accounted for 40 percent of all cases nationwide. For the second week in a row, one in five of all cases occurring in Florida alone. And within communities, these cases are primarily among unvaccinated people.
The third reason we’re in a different situation than earlier in the year is that we’re continuing to make more progress by increasing the number of vaccinated Americans. Importantly, states with the highest case rates are actually seeing their vaccination rates go up. In fact, in the past week, the five states with the highest case rates — Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, [Missouri, and] Nevada — had a higher rate of people getting newly vaccinated compared to the national average.
This is a very positive trend. For the second week in a row, states with lower vaccination and higher case rates are seeing their vaccination rates grow faster than the national average. People in these states are feeling the impact of being unvaccinated and responding with action. And across the country, in the past 10 days, more than 5.2 million Americans have gotten a shot.
So, each day, hundreds of thousands of Americans are choosing to protect themselves, their kids, and their neighbors by getting their first shot. And just as importantly, hundreds of thousands more are getting their second shot on the way to being fully vaccinated. These Americans are stepping up and doing their part. Each shot matters. Each additional person fully vaccinated is a step closer to putting this pandemic behind us.
So, we’re making continued progress in our fight against the virus. And today, we’re announcing additional resources to get more shots in arms and combat surges, particularly in rural communities.
As the President said last night, unvaccinated Americans know and trust people in their own communities to help get them accurate information about vaccines and help answer their questions.
Today, we are announcing that we were sending $100 million to rural health clinics to support vaccine education and outreach efforts in these communities where we are generally seeing low vaccine uptake.
This funding, made possible by the American Rescue Plan, will provide nearly 2,000 rural health clinics the resources they need to better reach unvaccinated Americans in their communities with information about COVID-19 and the vaccines and answers to their questions.
As we work to get more shots in arms, we’re also doubling down on our efforts to detect, prevent, and respond to outbreaks caused by the Delta variant. Testing and building testing capacity is a key part of our surge response because we know quickly detecting cases allows us to help prevent outbreaks and contain the virus.
Last week, we announced $400 million in American Rescue Plan funding for 1,540 small rural hospitals for COVID-19 to increase testing capacity in rural America. And today, as part of our efforts to reach more vulnerable individuals, we’re making an additional $1.6 billion investment in American Rescue Plan funding to bolster testing and mitigation measures in high-risk congregate settings, including homeless shelters, mental health and substance abuse treatment centers, domestic violence shelters, and prison systems.
These resources will help local health officials and communities identify potential outbreaks before they happen and prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
Our COVID-19 Surge Response Teams are also working with governors and local public health officials to identify specific needs on the ground and provide federal resources and support to fight outbreaks due to the spread of the Delta variant.
We are now providing CDC’s technical expertise, including on genetic sequencing, data analysis, and outbreak response to Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado.
FEMA will be deploying mobile vaccination clinics in North Carolina.
And today, HHS Secretary Becerra is traveling to Nevada, where we have deployed federal resources and 100 personnel from FEMA and HHS to support local health officials as they work to mitigate the spread of Delta and increase vaccinations.
In closing, our whole-of-government response continues to do everything we can to get more Americans fully vaccinated and protected from the virus, and help states and communities curb the spread of the Delta variant.
As the President said last night, it’s up to each and every single American to do their own part. We know everyone’s vaccination journey is different. We are ready to get more Americans vaccinated whenever, wherever they’re ready.
So, please, if you are unvaccinated, consider vaccination today. It’s free, it’s available, it’s easy, it works, and it’s never, never been more important.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Dr. Murthy.
SURGEON GENERAL MURTHY: Well, thank you so much, Jeff. And it’s great to be with all of you again today. I’ll start just by acknowledging the obvious — what we’re all seeing in the numbers — that it is troubling to see this rise in COVID cases, and it’s another reminder that we’re not out in the woods yet. But it’s important, also, that we not lose sight of how far we’ve come.
Cases are down dramatically from their January peak when we were averaging 200,000-plus cases a day. We’ve gotten more than 161 million people fully vaccinated, which means they have a high degree of protection against COVID-19. And every day, hundreds of thousands of people are still choosing to get vaccinated. That is all good news.
One fact that has been proven time and time again during this past year is that vaccines save lives. That’s why 99.5 percent of COVID-19 deaths and 97 percent of possible hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated. It’s also why nearly every death from COVID-19 is a preventable tragedy.
I’d like to share a few updates about how we’re continuing to support people in making their decisions about the vaccine.
First, we are ramping up our work with trusted messengers in key communities. This summer, we’ve seen people in every community stepping up to get their loved ones and neighbors vaccinated. That’s been really encouraging. And these groups include faith communities from the group Choose Healthy Life, which has worked with powerful networks of 48 Black churches in five cities to test and vaccinate people.
It also includes the American Muslim and Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council, which has engaged their communities through phone banking, text banking, social media, and door-to-door canvassing.
Healthcare professionals have also been stepping up, have more conversations with your patients.
And earlier this summer, the Alpha Chapter of the Chi Eta Phi sorority, a service organization made up of nurses, had more than 1,145 conversations about vaccinations at barber shops, grocery stores, and throughout their communities.
We’re also continuing to work with the student COVID-19 Community Corps, where students participate in calls to learn best practices and hear from their peers about how they can talk about vaccines with their friends and family and community members.
And we’re working with platforms like Twitch to answer user questions about the vaccines.
But very importantly, we’re also increasingly asking vaccinated people to help get their family and friends vaccinated. And the importance of this last item — family and friends talking to family and friends — is underscored by recent data, which found that one out of five adults who were unsure about the vaccine in January have now been vaccinated. And when asked what changed their mind, it was talking to family, friends, and their doctors, and seeing that people they knew had been safely vaccinated.
So we need to keep having these conversations, reminding people that vaccination is still the best way to keep our family and friends safe from the worst outcomes of COVID-19.
The second way that we’re gaining ground against the virus is by addressing health misinformation. Last week, I issued a Surgeon General’s Advisory to call the nation’s attention to the threat of health misinformation. Since then, we’ve continued to emphasize what individuals can do to stop health misinformation in its tracks.
That includes asking everyone to raise their own bar for sharing health information by checking to make sure that it’s backed by credible, scientific sources. As we say in the advisory, “If you are not sure, don’t share.” And we’ll continue to say that on social media, in a video PSA that we’ve created and released, and in conversations we’re convening with people around the country.
We’re also mobilizing other stakeholders to address misinformation — from technology companies and healthcare professionals, to researchers and community-based organizations. In fact, right after this briefing, my office will be hosting a conversation with community organizations around the country to discuss the steps that they can take to stop the spread of health misinformation.
Here’s the bottom line: Misinformation is a threat to our health, and the speed, scale, and sophistication with which it is spreading is unprecedented. I will not hesitate to say that and to call for greater accountability and action to address health misinformation.
A word about equity, though. We recognize that equity must be at the center of our work to confront health misinformation and here’s why: because unequal access to the healthcare system, education, and technology means that some people have more limited access to accurate information than others. And when those people instead encounter health misinformation, it can worsen their health outcomes, which exacerbates health inequities in what becomes a vicious cycle.
Ultimately, while the threat of the Delta variant is here, while climbing infection rates are what we’re seeing day to day, primarily among the unvaccinated, it is more important than ever before that we not let our guard down. And that’s why I’m asking everyone to please talk to your family and friends about getting vaccinated because you could be saving their life.
That’s the people-powered movement that we’ve got to expand in our country. We made great progress thanks to the hard work of millions of people across this country. We should not forget that. And we should be proud of it, but we have more work to do to end this pandemic.
I look forward to taking your — some of your questions. And I’ll turn it back to you, Jeff.
MR. ZIENTS: Thanks, Doctor. And let’s open it up for a few questions.
I believe we’re having trouble hearing the questions, if the questions have begun.
Okay, we’re taking a minute to sort through this technical issue.
MR. ZIENTS: Okay, we can hear.
Q Okay, great. Thank you. This question is for Dr. Walensky. Last night, President Biden indicated that the vaccine may be approved for children under 12 as soon as August, September, or October. Is there anything you can share about what led to that timeframe, and what any preliminary data shows so far for children who are participating in clinical trials? And one more quick thing on this: Do you anticipate approval will be for all children under 12 at once or likely be separated by age groups?
DR. WALENSKY: So, maybe I’ll just say that we’re looking at the clinical trial data now. We’re waiting for the clinical trial data to come in. The approval of the data and the authorization will be a regulatory FDA decision. So, after we have seen the clinical trial data — I have not seen them myself — after we will see them, then they will go to the FDA for their regulatory process of authorization.
MR. ZIENTS: Dr. Fauci, anything to add there?
We’re having trouble hearing Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: I’m sorry, Jeff, we were on mute. No, just to underscore what Dr. Walensky said, and that is that the clinical trials that are in progress are doing an age de-escalation; that relates the second part of the questioner’s question. So they’ll do 12 to 9 years old, 9 to 6, 6 to 2, and then 6 months to 2 years.
The data are being collected right now. Ultimately, as Dr. Walensky correctly said, this will be a regulatory decision based on the data that’s accumulated.
MR. ZIENTS: And I’ll just reiterate what we’ve talked about before, which is the FDA is the gold standard for vaccine review and approval. They’ll run an independent and rigorous scientific process. And when that process is complete, the American people can rest assured that the FDA maintained those world-class standards throughout this period.
MODERATOR: Let’s try Sabrina again.
Q Okay, great. Just wanted to make sure that you can hear me.
MR. ZIENTS: Yes.
Q All right, thank you so much.
MR. ZIENTS: Thank you.
Q Perhaps it’s a question for Dr. Fauci, who talked about how effective the vaccines are at preventing severe illness. I’m curious if we know more about what the risk of breakthrough cases resulting in
long COVID is? And given how recently people have been vaccinated, how long might it take to start identifying trends among possible long-haul patients who’ve been vaccinated?
DR. FAUCI: Well, that’s a — that’s a — an object of a very intensive study right now following individuals with various levels of seriousness of disease as to what the incidence and prevalence will be of long COVID. We don’t have enough information right now to give you an accurate number of what that incidence is, but that’s something that is being very actively followed right now.
MR. ZIENTS: Next question.
MODERATOR: Elizabeth Weise at USA Today.
Q Great. Thanks so much for taking my call. This is a question for Dr. Walensky. I’ve been talking to epidemiologists, and one of their concerns is that the CDC’s masking policy lacked teeth, so most people just took it to mean they didn’t need to wear a mask at all. San Francisco is now contemplating requiring proof of vaccination to get into bars and restaurants. Other people have suggested that masking regulations change if cases go above 5 per 100,000. Are there any thoughts in the works of either clarifying or changing CDC’s masking policy?
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you, Elizabeth. You know, as we have said consistently, the greatest risk right now is to those who are unvaccinated. And we have consistently and repeatedly said, “If you are unvaccinated, you need to be wearing a mask to protect yourself and others around you.” And we need more people to get vaccinated to stop this pandemic.
So, overall, the CDC recommendations haven’t changed. Fully vaccinated people are protected from severe illness. And we’ve always said that communities and individuals need to make the decisions that are right for them based on what’s going on in their local areas.
So, if you’re in an area that has a high case rate and low rates of vaccination where Delta cases are rising, you should certainly be wearing a mask if you are unvaccinated. If you are vaccinated, you get exceptional protection from the vaccines. But you have the opportunity to make the personal choice to add extra layers of protection if you so choose.
MR. ZIENTS: Next question.
MODERATOR: Michael Shear at New York Times.
Q Hi, can you hear me?
MR. ZIENTS: Yes.
Q Okay, thanks. This is for Jeff probably. One specific and one general question. The specific question is: There was this report overnight about the White House discussing masks — discussing mask mandates in light of L.A. County’s decision and the rise of the Delta variant. Can you, you know, tell us whether that report is correct? Is the White House, in fact, having high-level discussions about that?
And then, on a broader level, I wonder if you could sort of reflect on the moment that we’re in compared to where we were just two weeks — two or so weeks ago, you know, when the President welcomed the — sort of the world back to normal with a Fourth of July party on the White House lawn and it felt like we were going in a very different direction. You know, how — the President said yesterday wa- — he was frustrated by all of this. How — you know, how much of a different place are we in? And what is all this portend for everybody going back to school and work in the fall?
MR. ZIENTS: So, on masking, I think you just heard a — a very strong summary from Dr. Walensky, and that’s where we are. We will follow the science, and public health guidance is made by Dr. Walensky and her team at the CDC.
So, we will continue to follow the science and follow CDC on mask guidance — or mask re- — mask recommendations. I think the President captured it well last night, and it’s consistent with his message on July 4th. We’ve made significant progress with 162 million people fully vaccinated. And fully vaccinated people have a high degree of protection, even against the more transmissible Delta variant.
If you are not vaccinated — as the President spoke to unvaccinated people last night and back on July 4th — you need to get vaccinated or you do not have a high degree of protection for yourself, for your friends, and for your family and your community.
So, you know, we’ve made significant progress. We’re in a very different place than we were several months ago by getting 162 million people vaccinated, but we have a lot more work to do. And unvaccinated people need to roll up their sleeves as soon as possible and begin their vaccination routine.
MODERATOR: Time for a couple more questions. Let’s go to Kaitlan, CNN.
Q Thanks so much. Dr. Walensky, I just want to circle back on this just so we have complete clarity. Is the CDC considering right now changing its mask guidance for people who are fully vaccinated?
DR. WALENSKY: We are always looking at the data as the data come in. Our ma- — our guidance has been clear since — since we put it out several months ago, and that is: If you are unvaccinated, you should continue to wear a mask and protect yourself against others around you. And more importantly, you should go and get vaccinated to get better layers of protection.
We have always said that communities — local communities have to look at what is going on locally, as we have very heterogenous country right now. In areas that have a high amount of disease and low amounts of vaccination, that, you know — if you’re unvaccinated, you should absolutely be wearing a mask. If you’re vaccinated, you have exceptional levels of protection from the vaccine, and you may choose to add an extra layer of protection by putting on your mask, and that’s a very individual choice. That has been consistent with our CDC guidance since we put it out.
MR. ZIENTS: Last — let me do one more question, please.
MODERATOR: Let’s go to Tamara Keith at NPR.
Q Thank you so much for taking my question; it’s two questions, but I’ll make it quick. A lot of people who’ve gotten the J&J vaccine are wondering if they can or should get an mRNA booster. I know it’s not recommended at this time, but are you recommending against it? Or should patients and their doctors make a decision about that?
Also, wanted to get an update: In early June, you announced a plan to share 80 million doses globally by the end of June. It’s middle of late July. What has stopped you from meeting that goal?
MR. ZIENTS: Okay, why don’t we start with the J&J vaccine booster question, Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Yes, thank you, Jeff. The J&J vaccine — the data that I showed on the efficacy slide — was one of the slides I showed — is a very effective vaccine. There is no reason to believe right now that people who have taken the J&J vaccine are in need of a booster dose of any sort. There are no data to indicate that that is the case. Back to you, Jeff.
MR. ZIENTS: On the global front, as you know, we — the President has committed to sharing 580 million doses of vaccine to the world. Half a billion doses of Pfizer being donated to those hundred or so countries most in need. This is, by far, the largest-ever donation of COVID-19 vaccines by a single country.
We shared the 80 million by the end of June, and they have now shipped. So they have — they’re in the air or they’ve arrived in the recipient country. And we’ll continue to share tens of millions of doses across the summer months, beyond the 80 million.
Thank you for joining, and we look forward to seeing everybody at the next briefing. Thank you.
11:44 A.M. EDT
To view the COVID Press Briefing slides, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/COVID-Press-Briefing_22July2021_for-transcript-1.pdf