Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials
11:04 A.M. EDT
MR. ZIENTS: Good morning. Thanks for joining us. From the beginning of his administration, the President has been clear that vaccines are the path out of the pandemic. And every day since, we’ve been laser-focused on getting more and more Americans vaccinated.
Driven by the President’s six-point plan, we continue to get more vaccines into arms and protect more people.
Today, Drs. Walensky, Fauci, and Murthy will give you an update on these efforts, focusing on three key topics: First, the effectiveness of vaccines and our work to get more people vaccinated, including through vaccine requirements. Second, our work to bring Americans additional protection through booster shots. And, third, the potential on the horizon for vaccinating younger children.
Let’s start with Dr. Walensky for an update on the state of the pandemic and the impact of vaccines, and then Dr. Fauci to present on the effectiveness of vaccines and booster shots.
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you, Jeff. Good morning. Let’s begin with an overview of the data. Today, our seven-day average of cases is about 106,400 cases per day, and the seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 8,300 per day. Both of these are about a 15 percent decrease from last week.
Seven-day average daily deaths are at 1,476 per day. You’ve heard me say it before: Vaccines are the most powerful tool we have to prevent COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and death. The power of vaccination is not just for the individual who gets the shot, it is also for those around them and their community.
Today I wanted to share new data that demonstrate just how essential vaccination is in our fight against COVID-19. About 185 million Americans have rolled up their sleeves and are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Unfortunately, that leaves about 70 million eligible Americans unvaccinated, and these people are not evenly distributed. There are still places around the country where far too many individuals remain unvaccinated and many states where vaccination rates are less than 50 percent, leaving themselves and their communities at risk and without adequate protection against COVID-19.
We’re beginning to see cases and hospitalizations decrease from their peaks in late August and early September. This slide looks at the seven-day moving average of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in three groups of states. In blue, those states with less than 55 percent of their eligible population fully vaccinated. In yellow, those states with between 55 and 65 percent of their population fully vaccinated. And in green, those states with greater than 65 percent of their population of eligible fully vaccinated.
In the panel on the left, you can see weekly COVID-19 case rates. In those states with less than 55 percent of their eligible population vaccinated, case rates were consistently higher than in states with higher vaccine coverage. At the peak of the summer Delta surge, the low vaccine coverage states had a case rate that was over twice the rate seen in medium and high vaccination coverage states.
In the middle panel, you can see the same trends are seen for weekly hospital admission rates for COVID-19, with low vaccine coverage states having higher hospitalization rates and remaining substantially elevated, even as case total rates begin to decline. And then the panel on the right, deaths remain substantially higher in states with low vaccine coverage.
These data make two points abundantly clear. First, COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective in preventing serious disease, hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID-19. Second, high vaccination coverage in your community translates into fewer cases, less of a burden on your local healthcare system, lower disease rates in your classrooms, and better health for those around you, including protecting children less than 12 years old who are not yet eligible for vaccination.
While we have made tremendous progress in our campaign to vaccinate as many Americans as possible, we still have work to do to make sure that vaccination coverage is high and even across the country.
This week, CDC released a health alert highlighting the incredibly low rates of vaccination in pregnant people and those who may become pregnant, a group of people who are at high risk for severe complications from COVID-19. Overall, only 31 percent of pregnant people are fully vaccinated, and only 15 percent of Black pregnant people are vaccinated.
I want to reinforce that these vaccines are safe and effective, including during pregnancy. The benefits of vaccination far outweigh any risk to both mom and to baby. If you have not yet been vaccinated, I urge you to talk with your healthcare provider and those in your community about the benefits of vaccination. Vaccination is our best defense against COVID-19.
We have the scientific tools needed to put an end to this pandemic. We have the science that proves these vaccines are safe and remain effective. And I am confident that we can come together and protect ourselves and our communities from COVID-19.
Thank you. I’ll now turn it over to Dr. Fauci,
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. I would like to now provide three concise messages about how we can accelerate the end of the epidemic in our country and the pandemic globally with vaccinations.
First, COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, convenient, and free. They protect you, your loved ones, and your community.
This is just one bit of data, among many, from a variety of local locations throughout the country. In this case, it’s from Public Health — Seattle & King County. This is COVID-19 data over the past 30 days — essentially, Delta data. People who are not fully vaccinated are eight times more likely to test positive, 41 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 57 times more likely to die compared to people who are vaccinated.
Next message: Booster shots provide further protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection and symptomatic COVID-19 disease for people at increased risk of severe COVID-19 disease.
This is the slide I showed at a prior press briefing. Twelve days or more after the booster dose, the rate of confirmed infection was lower in the booster group than in the non-booster group by a factor of 11.3 and the rate of severe illness lower by a factor of 19.5.
This is active, severe COVID-19 cases by vaccination status in individuals over 60 years old, in the Israeli study. And the numbers you see are numbers per 100,000 population as of a couple of days ago: 174.2 in the unvaccinated, 33.7 in those who have two doses of an mRNA, and 3.4 in those who had two doses of the mRNA — in this case Pfizer — plus a booster.
Third point: Vaccines for children aged 5 to 11, pending FDA authorization and CDC recommendation, may soon be available to help protect our children and those around them.
As you know, a few days ago, Pfizer and BioNTech submitted their data to the FDA from their Phase 2/3 trials of the vaccine in children 5 to 11. The N was over 2,000. The companies report that the vaccine “demonstrated a favorable safety profile and elicited robust neutralizing antibody…using a two-dose regimen of 10 μg doses.”
Again, the FDA will make a regulatory determination, and the CDC with their ACIP will make a recommendation.
So, therefore, the conclusion from the three concise messages are, as Dr. Walensky said so cogently: Get vaccinated. Here how you can find it: Vaccines.gov. Text your ZIP Code; call the telephone number on the slide.
Back to you, Jeff.
MR. ZIENTS: Thank you, Doctors. As both Dr. Walensky and Dr. Fauci noted, vaccines are the best tool we have against the virus, and getting more shots in arms is the path out of this pandemic.
Right now, more than three out of four eligible Americans have at least their first shot. So that’s significant progress, but there’s more work to be done.
And that’s why the President is implementing bold vaccination requirements, including requirements for 17 million healthcare workers to be fully vaccinated and for all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or tested at minimum one time per week.
All told, the President’s vaccination requirements will apply to about 100 million workers. That’s two thirds of all workers across the country.
And as the President has said, employers should act now to protect their workforce and communities. And employers are doing just that by enacting vaccination requirements.
This week, Procter & Gamble and AT&T, two of the very largest companies in the country, adopted vaccination requirements.
Delaware announced public and private K-through-12 school teachers and staff need to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.
In Pennsylvania, Allegheny County is now requiring vaccination for its government employees.
And if you plan to visit Universal Studios in California, or go to a Grizzlies basketball game in Memphis, you’ll have to be fully vaccinated or provide proof of a negative test.
Each day this week, as organizations hit their vaccination deadlines, we got new data showing that vaccination requirements work.
Let’s start on Monday. On Monday, Novant Health System in North Carolina hit its deadline and announced, that day, 99 percent of its 35,000 employees are vaccinated.
On Tuesday, United Airlines announced that 99 percent of its 60,000 employees were vaccinated and in compliance by its deadline. That’s up from 59 percent just two months ago.
Then, on Wednesday, Vanderbilt University Medical Center said 95 percent of its 28,000 employees were fully vaccinated.
And just yesterday, Virginia Tech reported that 95 percent of its students were vaccinated by the school’s deadline.
The data is clear: When organizations implement vaccine requirements, vaccine rates — vaccination rates soar to 90 percent or greater.
More and more companies are stepping up to make vaccine requirements the standard across all sectors. Look at job postings. The number of job postings that list COVID vaccination as a requirement jumped 20 times in the past two months, according to LinkedIn data.
Bottom line: Vaccination requirements work. And driven by the President’s requirements, vaccination rates at businesses, healthcare systems, universities and colleges, and other institutions across the country will continue to increase.
As we vaccinate the unvaccinated, we’re also enhancing protection for vaccinated Americans through booster shots. We estimate that by day’s end, almost 2 million Americans will have rolled up their sleeves and gotten a booster shot — nearly 2 million booster shots in the first week. That’s a very strong start.
And states and pharmacies are reaching out to millions of eligible individuals with text messages, emails, and calls.
Maryland alone has made more than 250,000 calls to eligible individuals since last Friday. Pharmacies across the country have scheduled more than a million individuals to get their booster shot across the next couple of weeks. And pharmacies are also scheduling over 8,000 on-site clinics to bring booster and flu shots to the most vulnerable, including nursing home and assisted-living facility residents and staff.
So, the boosters program is off to a running start. And we’re working with states, Tribes, and territories; pharmacies; community health centers; doctors and other providers to get millions of eligible Americans their booster.
Let me close by reiterating we are laser-focused on getting more shots in arms, particularly to vaccinate the unvaccinated. That’s our path out of this pandemic.
So, if you’re unvaccinated, please go get a shot. It’s free, it’s safe, it’s easy, and it’ll help make all of us safer.
With that, let me turn it over to Dr. Murthy for an update on the potential for vaccinations for younger children.
SURGEON GENERAL MURTHY: Well, thanks so much, Jeff. And it’s good to be with everyone again today.
One of the many reasons that I’m hopeful about the future of our pandemic response is that vaccines for children under 12 are now on the horizon.
And I want to start by sharing why I’m personally invested in this process. My wife and I have two children under 12, and like all parents, we want them to be healthy and safe. We’ve spent a lot of time during the pandemic considering how best to protect them. And they recently started school, and we are so grateful that they have the chance to learn in person and enjoy social time with their peers. We are especially grateful to their school for following the CDC guidelines for schools and for using universal masking, regular testing, and improved ventilation to reduce the risk to our kids and all children in this school.
But knowing that our kids are unvaccinated, their safety is still always on our mind. And more broadly, I know that COVID has been a source of stress and worry for all those with children in their lives because we want them to be protected from COVID. A vaccine could make a big difference for the health of our kids and for the peace of mind of parents everywhere.
So, let’s talk about our path forward when it comes to vaccinating our children, from the dosage selection to the clinical trials to the rigorous review process.
I want to note that the foundation of this entire process is safety. The safety of our nation’s children is our highest value and our greatest responsibility. It dictates everything else in the process, and that starts with the dosage.
The vaccines for children come at different dosages because children are just tiny adults. They’re growing and developing in countless ways. So, the dosage is carefully considered and selected for its optimal safety and immune response in children.
Our guiding principle of safety also warrants conducting separate clinical trials for children. We want to be sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the evidence indicates a strong safety profile and strong immune response in children. That’s why it matters that thousands of kids are enrolled in each trial and that they are carefully monitored for at least two full months after they receive their second dose.
When there are sufficient data from those clinical trials, the vaccine developers submit their data and a formal request to the FDA, which then conducts a thorough independent evaluation.
If the FDA grants the vaccine an emergency use authorization, or EUA, then the vaccine can be administered.
But we have one more important layer of review. If the FDA grants the authorization, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices then meets to conduct their own review on specific clinical recommendations for healthcare providers.
As you can see, this is an involved process. It’s conducted by some of the most distinguished experts on vaccines. And the data and Advisory Committee proceedings are public for maximum transparency.
So where are we right now? Well, at the moment, the vaccine furthest along in this process for children is the Pfizer vaccine. They have more than 2,000 children enrolled in their clinical trial, and the company has reported that they have seen promising results.
Now, the FDA has released a statement saying that, once they receive a formal request for authorization from Pfizer, they are prepared to complete a thorough independent review as quickly as possible, likely in a matter of weeks rather than months.
The COVID-19 vaccines are FDA’s top priority, and they know the urgency with which our children need a vaccine. They will be guided by science and safety as they evaluate vaccine data for children. That’s what’s reassuring to me as a parent. And that is why when a vaccine is available for kids 5 to 11, I will look forward to taking my son to get vaccinated.
Until then, my family will be taking every step possible to protect our unvaccinated children from the virus. We will adhere to our school’s masking policy, because we know universal masking in schools reduces our children’s risk of getting COVID.
In Arizona’s Maricopa and Pima Counties, schools that started the year without mask requirements were three and a half times more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks in schools with early mask requirements.
Our children will also participate in the regular testing program their school has set up to catch potential infection early and prevent outbreaks.
Additionally, every member of our family will wear masks in indoor public spaces. And when we take our kids to see other people, we will try to do so in spaces with good ventilation, like outdoor settings.
Finally, even though our youngest kids can’t get vaccinated yet, the rest of us can. And when we are vaccinated, we act as barriers between our kids and the virus. So, if you are eligible to get vaccinated, please do so — if not for your own safety, then for the safety of unvaccinated children in your community.
And as challenging as this pandemic has been, we must never lose sight of the fact that we have made progress in combatting COVID-19. We’ve learned how to slow the spread of the virus. And we have powerful, powerful tools, including vaccines, that we didn’t have before.
Now we also have the promise of a vaccine for children under 12. We will continue to press forward with our efforts to protect people from COVID with vaccines and other tools that science tells us work to save lives and keep people out of the hospital.
Thanks so much. And I look forward to taking some of your questions. I’ll turn it back to Jeff.
MR. ZIENTS: Thanks, Dr. Murthy. Let’s open it up for questions.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Jeff. First question, let’s go to Sabrina Siddiqui at the Wall Street Journal.
Q Thank you so much, as always, for doing the briefing. I have two questions. First, can you talk more about what steps you’re taking to lower the cost of rapid at-home tests and to expand testing capacity more broadly, given the higher demand at schools and other congregate settings?
And then, separately, the White House has repeatedly said the CDC is responsible for the continued use of Title 42, with respect to immigration. What is the CDC’s criteria for lifting Title 42? Is there a case count or vaccination threshold? And are you considering lifting it in the near future?
MR. ZIENTS: Good. Why don’t I take the first question on testing and then over to Dr. Walensky.
So, testing capacity has increased significantly to — and its available testing — at many locations: pharmacies, community health centers, states and local sites. And we’re going to continue to increase the number of sites, as the President laid out in his six-point plan, by thousands. And to be clear, these tests come at no cost.
What you brought up was at-home testing, which came to market earlier this year. These are clearly convenient and have become very popular and are in very high demand. So, as the President announced a few weeks ago, we made a significant investment last month to further scale rapid test.
We are investing $2 billion to produce hundreds of addition- — hundreds of millions of additional tests. This gives the manufacturers the capacity — or, sorry, the confidence to increase their capacity. And we’re actually on track now to double the number of rapid tests in the market over the next 60 days.
We’ve also worked with top retailers — Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger — who have all agreed to sell these at-home tests at their costs, which will make them more affordable.
Overall, we’ll continue to pull every lever we can to further expand the manufacturing and the production of these tests in order to make them more widely available and to drive down the cost per test.
And we certainly encourage all Americans to get vaccinated, and when they need to get tested, to get tested.
DR. WALENSKY: Yeah, thank you for that question, Sabrina. So, right now, all but a handful of states in this country remain in the red area — high levels of transmission, over 100 per 100,000 cases over seven days. The Title 42 is a public health order decreasing the amount of crowding. Certainly, it will be one strategy to decrease the amount of transmission related to COVID-19.
We are reevaluating the Title 42 order. As a public health order, we do so every 60 days. And we will continue to reevaluate that. And in the meantime, CDC is providing technical assistance at border areas to ensure and work towards decreasing public health and COVID transmission in these areas.
MR. ZIENTS: Next question.
MODERATOR: Zeke Miller, AP.
Q Thanks for doing this again. I was hoping you might explain a little bit why you think cases and hospitalizations right now are coming down. Does it say something about — is there — what does that say about the rest of the fall and the winter?
And then, more broadly, there’s been a number of surveys that have come out showing that fully vaccinated people are still significantly altering their lives, fearing that they may get the virus. Many of the — for all the doctors, you know, should people who are fully vaccinated continue to, you know, harbor doubts about the efficacy of the vaccines, change their lives? Should they cancel — should they continue to postpone travel and stop — and not dining indoors and things like that, or should they start getting back to normal?
MR. ZIENTS: Okay, so let’s go to the first question — over to you, Dr. Walensky. And then, if you have anything to add, Dr. Fauci.
DR. WALENSKY: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we’ve seen this with numerous — with all of our surges: is they peak and then they come down. I think what — we’re watching this very carefully, and we really understand that the impact of Delta might be a little bit different.
But one of the things I think that’s critically important now is, as these cases come down, the most important thing that we can do is continue to practice the mitigation strategies that we know work. Of course, that’s masking, handwashing, distancing, ventilation, but critically important, it’s vaccination.
So, I think the future of where we go with this pandemic, with Delta, and the other potential variants, really lies within our ability to get this country vaccinated and, in the meantime, to double down on the prevention strategies that work.
MR. ZIENTS: Dr. Fauci, anything to add there?
DR. FAUCI: Yeah, one point that I think is important to make is: I think that the people who are unvaccinated, when they see the curve starting to come down, that is not a reason to remain unvaccinated. Because if you want to ensure that we get down to a very low level and that we don’t resurge again, we still got to get a very large proportion of those 70 million people who are eligible to be vaccinated, who have not been vaccinated — we’ve got to get them vaccinated.
So, it’s good news that we’re starting to see a turning around of the curve and coming down. That is not an excuse to walk away from the issue of needing to get vaccinated.
MR. ZIENTS: Second question, on fully vaccinated people, Dr. Murthy, do you want to respond there?
SURGEON GENERAL MURTHY: All right, thanks, Jeff. And thanks for the question.
So, I think a couple of important points to make here. Number one is, if people are fully vaccinated, it’s really important that they know that they have a high degree of protection against the worst outcomes of COVID — you know, against hospitalization, severe disease, and death.
The bottom line is the vaccine saves lives and keeps people out of the hospital. And that’s actually one of the reasons why many people who are fully vaccinated feel more comfortable actually going and visiting relatives and getting back to some of their day-to-day activities that they enjoyed pre-pandemic.
There are some people though, especially in the face of a Delta variant, who recognize that even though they may be okay, they want to take extra precautions to avoid transmitting to people at home who may be unvaccinated; maybe they’ve got elderly relatives at home who are immunocompromised, and they’ve got kids who are under 12 who are vaccine- — who are unvaccinated. And some of them are taking some extra precautions, which is reasonable.
But in no way, shape, or form should this take away from the fact that the vaccines are highly effective and they do dramatically reduce your risk.
One last thing I’ll just mention here is around boosters. You know, we — given how effective vaccines have been, we want to extend that protection that people have enjoyed from the vaccines. And so, the booster program is actually going to help us to do that, particularly with our higher-risk populations. That’s why the FDA and CDC made their recommendations last week on boosters for those above 65, with other illnesses, and who are at higher risk of exposure to the virus.
But make no mistake: Our lives are fundamentally better because of the vaccines. And the more people who get vaccinated, the quicker we’ll be able to return back to normal.
MR. ZIENTS: Thank you. Next question, please.
MODERATOR: Let’s go to Arlette at CNN.
Q Hi there. I wanted to see if you could react to this news from Merck about their antiviral pill that cuts the risk of death and hospitalization by COVID in half. I know that this will have to go through the FDA process, but do you guys have an estimated timeline for when you hope this will be approved?
And then, I know that you’ve also already reached an agreement for 1.7 million courses of this medicine, but are there plans to buy more? And are there — how exactly would these be distributed out to the states?
MR. ZIENTS: Dr. Fauci, for the first part of the question.
DR. FAUCI: Yeah, for the first part of the question: The news of the efficacy of this particular antiviral is obviously very good news. The company, when they briefed us last night, had mentioned that they will be submitting their data to the FDA imminently. The data are impressive. There was a 50 percent diminution. Of importance is that in the placebo group there were eight deaths, and in the treatment group there were no deaths. That’s also very important and very good news.
We always hesitate to make any timelines. The FDA will look at the data, and in their usual, very efficient and effective way, will examine the data as quickly as they possibly can. And then it will be taken from there, because once a recommendation is made, then we go through the same process of getting the recommendation for its usage through the CDC.
MR. ZIENTS: So, as to the second part of the question, you know, if indeed it is authorized, as Dr. Fauci just described the process, the federal government has contracted to purchase 1.7 million doses to make this therapy available. The government also has an option for some additional doses.
If approved, I think the right way to think about this is this is a potential additional tool in our toolbox to protect people from the worst outcomes of COVID. But I think it’s really important to remember that vaccination, as we’ve talked about today, remains far and away our best tool against COVID-19. It can prevent you from getting COVID in the first place. And we want to prevent infections, not just wait to treat them once they happen.
Why don’t we take one more question?
MODERATOR: Last question, let’s go to Sasha Pezenik at ABC News.
Q Hey, guys. Thank you for taking my question. On testing, the administration has pledged millions towards — billions, frankly — towards shoring up our testing infrastructure. It’s been a core part of pulling us out of the pandemic, but we’ve seen them fly off of shelves. We’re now seeing pharmacies rationing how many tests a person can buy. We’re seeing delays in scheduling rapid-test appointments. So can you help us understand what’s going wrong here; why countries like Germany have been able to flood their market with cheap tests and the U.S. has not been able to?
MR. ZIENTS: Yeah, so I think it’s important to, again, emphasize that overall testing capacity across the country remains robust.
You’re right that the at-home rapid test is under a lot of demand. As I said, the manufacturing is scaling up significantly, doubling across the next couple of months. And we’re just going to keep at it to encourage those manufacturers to increase capacity and to drive down the cost of those tests. So, we will continue to pull every lever we can to increase the convenience of rapid at-home testing.
Thank you for today. I hope everybody has a good weekend. And I look forward to next week’s briefing.
11:35 A.M. EDT
To view the COVID Press Briefing slides, visit: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/COVID-Press-Briefing_1October2021.pdf