Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials
1:25 P.M. EDT
MR. ZIENTS: Good afternoon, and thanks for joining us. Today, we will focus on yesterday’s exciting development: CDC’s recommendation of a vaccine for kids ages 5 through 11, following FDA’s authorization last week.
Vaccines for kids ages 5 through 11 is a landmark moment in our vaccination campaign. The first mother to get her child vaccinated last night captured it well: “It’s a sigh of relief.”
Twenty-eight million young kids are now eligible for vaccination. We’ve been planning for this moment, and we are prepared.
And beginning the week of November 8th, our program will be fully up and running, with about 20,000 trusted providers and convenient sites across the country offering vaccinations for kids ages 5 through 11.
Let me first turn to Drs. Walensky and Fauci to discuss the CDC decision and the effectiveness of vaccines for kids.
Then, I’ll share the latest on how we’re ramping up our execution of our kids’ vaccination program.
And then, Dr. Murthy will cover our efforts to build vaccine confidence among parents.
Over to you, Dr. Walensky.
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you, Jeff. And good afternoon, everyone. As you just heard from Jeff, today is truly a monumental day in the course of this pandemic and one that many of us have been eager to see.
Nearly 12 months have passed since the initial recommendation of COVID-19 vaccination for those 16 years and older. And since that day, many of us have been asking, “When will we be able to expand this protection to our younger children?”
Yesterday, CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices met to review the latest data from Pfizer on the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccination in children 5 to 11. The committee also discussed in detail the clinical need for vaccination in these younger children.
Throughout the day, I listened intently to the committee’s open, transparent, and robust discussion. Following their unanimous vote, I endorsed their strong recommendation that children 5 to 11 years old should be vaccinated with the Pfizer pediatric COVID-19 vaccine.
With this vote, we are now expanding vaccine recommendations to more than 28 million children in the United States. Distribution of pediatric vaccinations across the country started this week, with plans to scale up to full capacity starting the week of November 8th.
I want to speak directly to parents about this recommendation. We have followed the scientific process. We have done our due diligence. Please know we have thoroughly reviewed all of the available safety, immunogenicity, and efficacy data before recommending this vaccine for your child.
In clinical trials, vaccination was found to be nearly 91 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 among children ages 5 to 11. In clinical trials, vaccine side effects were mild, self-limiting, and similar to those seen in adults and with other vaccines recommended for children. The most common side effect was a sore arm.
The safety of our children is the most imp- — of utmost importance to me, and I believe these vaccines will help us to better protect our children from COVID-19.
Throughout this pandemic, we have learned a tremendous amount about both COVID-19 disease and the way it affects our children, with nearly 2 million reported cases of COVID-19 in children in 5 to 11 since the start of the pandemic. These cases have ranged from mild to severe, with some cases resulting in hospitalizations; deaths; multi-inflammatory [sic] — multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C; and other long-term complications.
The spread of the Delta variant resulted in a surge of COVID-19 cases in children throughout the summer. During a six-week period in late June to mid-August, COVID-19 hospitalizations among children and adolescents increased fivefold.
The risk to children of severe COVID remains too high and too devastating. And vaccination, along with other important preventive measures, can protect our children.
While children are at lower risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19 compared to adults, we know that beyond the clinical impact of COVID, there have been detrimental social and mental health impacts from this pandemic.
For almost two years, schools and many milestone celebrations have been fundamentally changed.
There are children in the second grade who have never experienced a “normal” schoolyear. There are students in middle school who missed out on school sports and extracurricular activities. There are missed proms and homecomings, and too many missed graduations.
We have watched as the education gaps that exist in this country have widened as this virus has disproportionately impacted racial and ethnic minority communities. And we have seen the negative impact on the mental health of our youth.
We are reminded of the importance of providing children with an environment where they can succeed.
Pediatric vaccination has the power to help us achieve healthy, safe, and inclusive environments for our children.
Getting your child vaccinated can help protect them against COVID-19, as well as reduce disruptions in in-person learning and activities, helping us get back to school as we once knew it and hope it can be: a safe and enriching environment for all of our children.
Beyond protection for our children, pediatric vaccination can help us better protect our families and our communities, helping prevent children from bringing the virus home to family members who may be more vulnerable and helping reduce community transmission levels.
While we celebrate this important milestone today, I want to recognize the over 700 children who we have tragically lost to this disease. I want us to remember that pediatric vaccination is just one important piece to this complex puzzle.
We continue to work to address the outstanding need to vaccinate as many adults as possible and to provide protection to our communities, including to those who are younger than five and are not yet eligible for vaccination.
We know that vaccination helps to decrease community transmission and protect those who are most vulnerable.
With this new recommendation, I know parents have questions. As a parent myself, I understand the need to have as much information as possible to ensure our decisions are in the best interest of our children.
I encourage parents with questions to talk to their children’s pediatrician, their school nurse, and their local pharmacist or other trusted source to learn more about this vaccine and its benefits and to get answers to your questions.
Get the information you need to make the best decision for your child. And let’s take a moment to commemorate today, this moment, that we can bring protection to our children.
Thank you. And, with that, I’ll turn things over to Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky.
Dr. Walensky has articulated very clearly the importance of getting our children vaccinated. I’d like to spend the next couple of minutes showing you the data why this is so.
Can I have the next slide, please?
Let’s take a look at the cumulative burden of all children, those less than 18 years old: over 5 million cases, over 65,000 hospitalizations, and, as the total group, over 5,000 multisystem inflammatory syndrome, with total deaths, as mentioned by Dr. Walensky, of now approaching 800 individuals.
Let’s take a look specifically at the group under discussion today, of the 5- to 11-year-olds: 1.9 million cases reported; more than 8,000 hospitalizations — one third of which resulted in a requirement for an ICU admission. Among that younger group, more than 2,000 multisystem inflammatory syndrome. And in the total cohort, at least 94 COVID-associated deaths.
Let’s take a look at the underlying medical conditions among children of that age group who are hospitalized. As you can see, it’s dominated by chronic lung disease, obesity, and neurological disorders. But there are a number of other disorders — many of which we see frequently in children, particularly children of a certain age — that make it very, very likely that an individual, if they do become hospitalized, will have one of these underlying conditions.
What about the post-COVID conditions? I’ve already mentioned, as has Dr. Walensky, the multisystem inflammatory syndrome, but there’s also ongoing and residual symptoms and complications reported in children — referred to as “long COVID” — which occurs in children, maybe to a lesser extent, about 4 to 6 percent. But nonetheless, long COVID does occur in children.
Let’s take a look now at the incident rate. Children and adults are equally vulnerable to coronavirus infection. There was some consideration earlier on that that was not the case. That may be because children are less likely to become sick. And in this JAMA Pediatrics paper, it was shown that 50 percent of children 5 to 11 years are without symptoms. So, we should not underestimate the incidence in children.
What about transmission? Transmission — secondary children transmission does occur both in the household and in the school settings. And vaccination, we hope, will decrease this transmission.
What about the efficacy? In individuals 12 to 15 years old, this study, just a few months ago, showed that in adolescents of those age, the vaccine efficacy is extremely high, approaching 100 percent.
And in a very recent study that Dr. Walensky mentioned, when you look at children within the age group under discussion today, 5- [to] 11-year-olds, about 91 percent efficacy during a period of time when Delta was the prevalent strain.
So, if in the next slide what we show — if I could have the next slide. That’s not there. Okay.
What I was going to say is that I’ve shown you disease burden, incidence, transmission, and the efficacy of the vaccine — every reason in the world to get our children vaccinated.
Back to you, Jeff.
MR. ZIENTS: Okay. Well, thank you, Doctors.
Following FDA’s authorization last Friday, teams immediately began packing vaccines specifically formulated for kids ages 5 through 11 into specialized containers and they’ve been working 24/7 to ship millions of doses to thousands of vaccine sites across the country.
In fact, over the next 24 hours alone, there will be millions more doses in the air and on trucks heading to cities and towns across the country from Bar Harbor, Maine; to Anchorage, Alaska; to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Packing and shipping will continue over the weekend and into next week, with doses arriving at thousands of vaccination sites in every state, Tribe, and territory.
This is an exciting and long-awaited moment for parents and for our vaccination program. And I want to explain what parents can expect as we ramp up to full strength.
Pediatricians, family doctors, pharmacies, community health centers, and children’s hospitals are receiving doses and are standing up their operations across the next several days.
Some pediatricians and family doctors are already beginning to schedule appointments.
And many pharmacies, including CVS and Walgreens, will open scheduling systems today so that parents can schedule appointments for their kids over the coming days and weeks.
As more and more doses get delivered, more and more of these trusted providers will start scheduling and offering vaccinations.
Across the country, children’s hospitals, local health departments, and education leaders are also kicking off their programs to vaccinate kids in their communities.
In Houston, Texas Children’s Hospital has already scheduled over 28,000 appointments, held numerous town halls to educate the community, and is planning to partner with churches and schools to offer vaccination clinics across the city starting next week.
In Milwaukee, Children’s Wisconsin will host vaccination clinics at regional sites every Saturday throughout the month of November and December, offering both COVID-19 and flu vaccines to kids and their families.
In the state of Colorado, the Children’s Hospital Colorado and other partners — they will host the first of many clinics this Friday, with more than 4,000 appointments already scheduled through the weekend.
Massachusetts is planning to host vaccination clinics at youth-focused sites, such as the Dr. Seuss Museum and the Museum of Science.
Illinois has equipped mobile units to meet kids and parents in their communities, with over 100 clinics already scheduled and hundreds more to come.
Maine is working with local education leaders to bring vaccinations to schools across the state.
State and local health departments are planning to launch thousands of community-based clinics, including at youth sporting events, fairs, zoos, and community centers.
And across the country, schools will partner with vaccine providers to host vaccination clinics, with more than 6,000 clinics at schools being planned before the winter holiday break.
Later today, we’ll be meeting with governors’ offices, state and local health departments, community health centers, and pharmacies as they stand up their vaccination operations.
Altogether, starting next week, parents will have approximately 20,000 trusted and convenient locations to get their kids vaccinated, with more and more sites coming online in the weeks ahead.
Importantly, by the end of this week, parents and guardians can go to Vaccines.gov to search for locations near them offering vaccinations for kids ages 5 through 11.
And as we hit full strength next week, finding a site nearby and scheduling an appointment will become easier and easier.
Bottom line: Starting the week of November 8th, the kids’ vaccination program will be fully up and running. Parents will have a wide range of options to schedule appointments and to get their kids vaccinated in settings they’re familiar with and from providers they trust.
Before I turn to Dr. Murthy, I want to underscore: We have made significant progress over the past 10 months, with more than 222 million Americans with at least their first shot and 70 percent of adults now fully vaccinated.
And the pace of vaccinations continues to be strong. Just today, we reported over 1.3 million shots in arms. That’s up almost 20 percent from last Wednesday’s report. Importantly, over 300,000 Americans got their first shot.
We remain laser-focused on accelerating our path out of the pandemic by getting more Americans vaccinated — from getting booster shots to tens of millions of eligible Americans, to vaccinating unvaccinated Americans, and now helping parents get their kids vaccinated.
With that, over to you, Dr. Murthy.
SURGEON GENERAL MURTHY: Well, thanks so much, Jeff. And it’s great to be with everyone again today.
I want to start by saying that for all parents, caregivers, and everyone who wants to protect the health of our children, the arrival of vaccines for kids truly is a landmark moment.
We want to make sure that every parent out there has the opportunity to get their questions answered, and that’s why we’re focusing on a variety of outreach efforts that will meet parents where they are with scientific information from sources they can trust.
To do this, we will be working with trusted people and organizations. These include educators in schools, clinicians in health centers, and faith leaders in their congregations. And we’re partnering with groups that have longstanding relationships with parents, including the National Parent Teacher Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Now, we’ll be providing all these organizations with toolkits, factsheets, and flyers with information about the vaccine. And we are setting up forums and town halls to answer parent questions, including a town hall this Sunday with dozens of faith communities.
We’re also working with medical groups to encourage doctors to talk to their patients about the vaccine and to appear on local media outlets. This will include appearances by Spanish- speaking doctors on Spanish-language media so that all parents can get their questions answered, regardless of background or English-language skills.
In addition to all of this, we are going to be leveraging the full network of federal government programs and partners to get the word out to parents, working with Head Start programs, federally qualified health centers, Medicaid providers, and others.
And finally, we are setting up a nationwide network of vaccination clinics at schools and local health departments so that families have easy access to vaccinations in their neighborhood, administered by organizations they trust. And as part of this effort, we’ve partnered with the Children’s Hospital Association to host clinics at children’s hospitals across the country.
In all of this outreach, what we want to convey to parents is that this vaccine will help protect our kids from COVID. It’s true that, overall, kids do much better than older adults with COVID.
But COVID is far from harmless in children. You saw the numbers from Dr. Fauci and you heard them from Dr. Walensky. During the pandemic, we’ve lost hundreds of children to COVID-19, including nearly 100 children ages 5 to 11. Thousands have been hospitalized, and thousands have developed a serious COVID-19-related inflammatory condition that affects multiple organ systems, including the heart.
On top of this, many children have suffered with long COVID, where symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, and brain fog stretch out for weeks or even months.
There are also the effects of COVID-19 on our kids’ mental health and their social and emotional wellbeing, which Dr. Walensky talked about.
While a vaccine for kids is a landmark positive development in the face of these challenges, I want to warn parents about the wave of misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines that is coming their way.
Many parents are already seeing inaccurate claims on social media, text threads, and in their inboxes. Now, I believe every parent has a right to the facts so they can make decisions for their children based on accurate scientific information. Misinformation robs them of this freedom.
That’s why I’m asking parents to please seek answers from credible sources, like their doctor, their local hospital, their local health department, or the CDC.
On a personal note, I just want to say that my wife and I will be taking our five-year-old son to get vaccinated, and we will be so grateful that we can more confidently send him out into the world knowing that he has strong protection against COVID-19.
Ultimately, we want every child in our country to be safe from COVID and to be able to get back to the lives they love: sleepovers and birthday parties, school plays and soccer games, visits with friends and grandparents, and so much more. And that’s why we must do everything we can to support parents as they consider vaccinating their children.
Thank you. And I’ll turn it back over to Jeff.
MR. ZIENTS: Thank you, Doctor. Let’s take a few questions.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Jeff. Keep your questions to one question.
Erin Billups, Spectrum News.
Q Hi. Thank you so much for taking my question. This is for Dr. Walensky and Dr. Fauci. It’s been well documented that a natural SAR-Cov-2 infection offers some protection, natural immunity to the coronavirus. And particularly as many parents are still hesitant and concerned about unnecessary exposure to these vaccines, will there be — is there any discussion about allowing just one dose for children who have had prior infection?
MR. ZIENTS: Dr. Walensky?
DR. WALENSKY: Yeah, maybe what I will just start with is to say we absolutely recommend that children who have previously had COVID also get vaccinated. That is definitely a recommendation.
We have data from the trials. In fact, several of the — about 10 percent of people in the clinical trials for the kids had previous infection, and we have seen that it bolsters their protection and it is safe to do.
So, we absolutely recommend two doses of vaccines for these children. We do know that after nearly all infectious diseases, you have some protection from getting that infection again, but we don’t really know how long that lasts or how robust it is. And so we absolutely recommend that children, even children who had disease before, get vaccinated.
MR. ZIENTS: Next question, please.
MODERATOR: Let’s go to Monica Alba at NBC News.
Q Thank you so much. My question: Is the CDC closer to reevaluating the definition of “fully vaccinated” as it relates to third doses or boosters now that all three vaccines are approved for that? How will that be determined and when? And how might that figure into federal vaccination guidelines and, in particular, the U.S. Department of Labor mandate rule that we’re expecting soon? Thank you.
DR. WALENSKY: Yes. Thank you for that question, Monica.
The definition of “fully vaccinated” is one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and two doses of the either Pfizer vaccine or the Moderna vaccine. And we’re not examining changing that definition anytime at this point.
MR. ZIENTS: And then I would add that the federal requirements will follow the CDC guidance.
Next question, please.
MODERATOR: Let’s go to Ebony McMorris at the American Urban Radio Network.
Q Hi. Thanks for taking my question. This is to anyone. My question is: Given the reduction in dosage for the Pfizer vaccine among 5- to 11-year-olds and the increased risk of myocarditis in the adolescent population, is there any type of consideration and getting Pfizer to revisit the dosage for vaccine among children that are 12 to 18?
MR. ZIENTS: Dr. Walensky?
DR. WALENSKY: Yeah, may I take this?
So, thank you, Ebony, for that question. We carefully looked at this issue of myocarditis for our 5- to 11-year-olds because of exactly the question. And that is among the reasons that the dose was changed to a lower dose — one third of the dose.
And I do want to highlight that in the clinical trials that Dr. Fauci noted, there were no cases of myocarditis in the children between the ages of 5 to 11. The CDC has previously, as has the FDA, thoroughly reviewed the data and the evidence in our older age groups as well as our adolescents, and have demonstrated that there’s absolute benefit to vaccination over the risk of COVID and especially the risk of COVID-induced myocarditis.
MR. ZIENTS: Next question, please.
MODERATOR: Josh Wingrove at Bloomberg.
Q Hi, there. Thank you. Jeff, the parents today are having trouble scheduling their appointments. Can you say when Vaccines.gov will offer scheduling for the 5-to-11 age group? I know you said that this will ramp up into next week. When can people log on and get that?
And can you tell us also when you expect the OSHA rule to be released? Is that coming this week as well? And will it have an implementation period, or will it just sort of kick in immediately? Thank you.
MR. ZIENTS: So, on the OSHA rule: That will be coming quite soon — so in a matter of days, at this point. And I’ll leave the details to the rule when it’s made public by the Federal Register.
You know, after 18 months of a pandemic, as we’ve all talked about, it’s understandable that parents have anxiously awaited this day. It’s a very important day. And we share parents’ relief and enthusiasm to get their kids vaccinated.
As to scheduling, some pediatricians and some family doctors are already beginning to schedule appointments; many more will come across the coming days. By the end of this week, parents and guardians will be able to go to Vaccines.gov to find locations offering vaccinations for kids ages 5 through 11 near them.
CVS and Walgreens are already online, with more pharmacies coming online soon, so parents can schedule appointments for their kids over the coming weeks and days. And starting the week of November 8th, next week, 20,000 sites — convenient and trusted sites — will be open and the kids’ vaccination program will be fully up and running.
Last question, please.
MODERATOR: Last question. Let’s go to Christina Hall at the Detroit Free Press.
Q Thank you for taking my question. It also had to do with the Vaccines.gov website. We did not see a specific search option for the Pfizer vaccines for children ages 5 to 11. The only listing was for 12 and older. And with all of the advanced preparation, do you have a specific day this week when parents will be able to search for vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 on the website?
And why wasn’t the federal government prepared to have this search option on the website already, especially with the vaccines starting to be shipped out last week? Thank you.
MR. ZIENTS: So, it’ll be on, as I said, by the end of week, Friday. You need to get the vaccines to the sites. The sites have to be ready and up and running. That’s happening as we speak; more and more sites are coming online.
We’ll have a threshold number of sites online by Friday, and that’s when Vaccines.gov will be live. And Vaccines.gov will continue to add more and more locations — those 20,000 locations and more — across the coming days.
Thank you for today’s briefing. And we look forward to the next one.
1:52 P.M. EDT
To view the COVID Press Briefing slides, visit: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/COVID-Press-Briefing_3November2021.pdf